To paraphrase the immortal Jake Taylor, “Yale ain’t won nothin’ yet, they still have one more to go.”
Such is the awkwardness of the 14-game Ivy League Tournament that even after a 62-52 win at Lavietes Pavilion over four-time defending Ivy champ Harvard, their job is not quite done yet.
Suddenly streaking Dartmouth awaits at Leede Arena, approximately 20 hours after the Yale bus left Harvard. Yale is well aware, of course, immediately issuing a social media ban to keep everyone focused.
Captain Greg Kelley, who hit a big first-half three, lived the first five years of his life in a Harvard dorm (his dad was a senior tutor here) and went to high school 10 minutes from Cambridge in Newton.
“I’ve probably spent more time in this gym than their players have,” Kelley said.
Yet a clearly excited Kelley was also torn, knowing that even though they were now on SportsCenter and they were so close to being the Yale team to finally break a 53-year NCAA drought, there was still work to do.
“The plan is we’re turning all our cell phones off,” Kelley said. “We’re trying to stay off Twitter, off Facebook, trying not to text our friends. We’re just trying to stay to ourselves until after the game tomorrow night.”
Now Yale has indeed clinched a share of an Ivy League league title, leading Harvard by a game with just one to go (Harvard hosts Brown tomorrow, if the two teams finish tied, they will playoff next weekend at the Palestra), their first since 2002, but that holy grail is now oh so close, isn’t it?
Yet the Big Green stormed from 24 back in the second half to beat Brown Friday, already beat Harvard in Cambridge (which Yale thanks them for), and is just a 1-point favorite according to KenPom.
And so even after Javier Duren, who survived a gash over his left eye and a quick run to the locker room to stop the bleeding to score 22 points, grab nine rebounds, and put several final daggers into the Crimson late, there’s still one more to go. Duren, who came to Yale as a relatively mistake-prone freshman known more for his flat top than his play on the court has matured into an Ivy Player of the Year candidate, and was clearly the best player on the floor in the biggest game of his career.
“You know, (Javier’s) the guy that I feel like I have two Player of the Year candidates in Justin (Sears) and him,” Yale coach James Jones said. “Javier proved tonight he deserves to have some consideration there as well.”
Said Duren: “Years past, I was kind of like awestruck. Being a part of Yale-Harvard was intimidating. But now being a senior, being here before, I look at our starting lineup, we have four seniors, guys who’ve battled with us. There’s a different kind of composure, a different kind of confidence that comes with that, and I think it shows.”
But there’s still one more to go.
Yale held Wesley Saunders and Siyani Chambers to a combined 5-18 shooting (as well as Corbin Miller 0-9) and the Crimson to 0.88 points per possession in their second straight win at Lavietes, Yale 22nd victory of the season and one that will surely propel them into the national spotlight and puts them in position to get a decent seed (No. 12 or No. 13) in the NCAA Tournament, their first since the Kennedy Administration in case you haven’t heard. It was the elimination of four years of frustration for seniors Kelley, Armani Cotton (14 big points and five rebounds), Matt Townsend (eight points including a couple of huge late jumpers to go with six rebounds), and Duren.
But …. well you know.
“We have to get on on a bus and go play Dartmouth,” Jones said. “We’re looking forward to the bus ride and getting a good meal on the bus and try to play our best tomorrow.”
For Jones, it’s his 16th season in charge, he has the Yale record for career victories, he’s third in Ivy history in wins, and only 19 other Division I coaches have been with their school as long as he has. In 2002, he shared an Ivy title, but lost in a (three-team) playoff, and probably figured his time was coming sometime soon. However, those current seniors we just talked about? They were eight and nine years old. And after so many years of frustration against Harvard, his team came up huge in a big spot, and now will go to Dartmouth needing one more victory.
“It’s a long time in between,” Jones said. “Hopefully we can finish it off.”
One more to go.