Yale 76, Dartmouth 71 (OT): Survival Beats Disaster

NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Dartmouth again? Really?

When a hobbled Makai Mason threw a pass that Miles Wright picked off, there were 11.4 seconds left, Yale trailed 62-61, and Dartmouth – just 9-16 overall and 3-9 in the Ivy – was ready to ruin the entire season again for the Bulldogs. A loss wouldn’t officially end the Ivy race, but with the way Princeton is playing and a trip to Columbia looming next weekend?

Good luck.

Yale coach James Jones swears he didn’t see ghosts, but if they were at Lee Amphitheater, they figured two horrible nightmares at the hands of the Big Green would be cruel even by their standards.

After giving up the ball, Mason turned around and fouled Wright – whose three-pointer seconds earlier had given Dartmouth that lead. But Wright made just 1-of-2 at the line, and Mason – who would finish just 4-18 from the field – hit the biggest Yale shot of the season, a pull-up foul-line jumper with 5.4 seconds remaining to tie it.

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“We kind of just went,” Mason said. “Justin (Sears) set a great screen and got me open.”

Said Jones: “Last year, we had Javier (Duren) in that spot and we didn’t know if we could improve this season. But he’s been unbelievable for us this season. He asked me if I wanted to call a time out, and we had just turned the ball over the play before, but I let him go. I just know that this kid has got it in him.”

Dartmouth never got a good shot off to end regulation, and once the ghosts had helped keep a couple of Big Green attempts out in the first minute of the extra session (they had two in-and-outs), Yale went 9-10 at the free throw line and an emphatic Justin Sears dunk in the final minute made the Lee Amphitheater crowd so loud that it took the Big Green 10 seconds to get an official to hear their time out pleas.

Whew.

How did Yale get in such a precarious position in the firstplace? Well, give Dartmouth plenty of credit. As they did in the first meeting between the teams two weeks ago, they took the ball right to the paint and had a remarkable amount of success for a team that entered 295th nationally in two-point shooting.

“We match up pretty good with them,” Dartmouth coach Paul Cormier. “I’m proud of my team. We lost a heartbreaker last night (overtime loss at Brown), and another one tonight. We just couldn’t make enough plays down the stretch to pull it off, but give Yale credit, they did.”

At the other end, with Mason clearly limited, Dartmouth swarmed Sears and Sherrod, and hoped for the best and got the best more than they usually would against Yale, particularly at home.

In the postgame, Jones insisted that his heart rate doesn’t increase over basketball games, but the relief was palpable. It wasn’t quite a sellout, but to draw more than 2,000 on a day where Yale was playing Quinnipiac in hockey and see alums on Senior Night and Alumni Weekend from all over the country, and then have it end with a loss to Dartmouth? Talk about a mood killer.

There is plenty of work to be done in the next six days for Yale, who has looked increasingly vulnerable without Jack Montague, and – while he said afterward the chances of him leaving the game was “zero percent” – who knows how healthy Mason will be for next weekend?

For now, though, Yale was all smiles, and rightfully so. They had completed the first undefeated regular season at Payne Whitney Gym since it opened a few months before Franklin D. Roosevelt was first elected in 1932 (Connecticut was one of six states that Herbert Hoover carried, oops), and this marks the first time Yale has posted back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time since another Harvard alum Roosevelt, Teddy, was in the White House (1907). And the dream of going to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since a third Harvard grad, John F. Kennedy, was President in 1962 remains very much alive.

Barely.

“It’s Alumni Weekend. For me, it’s great because I’ve seen a lot of my former players,” Jones said. “And it just brings me joy to see all these guys come back and support our program. They have lived and died with every shot, and I’ve been e-mailing them all and they’re so excited, and now they got a chance to see us firsthand. It’s a terrific weekend for everyone involved.”

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What else did we learn at Lee Amphitheater, which Yale could hypothetically return to for the NIT should it fail to win the Ivy League?:

  1. Matchups

In was a quite bizarre stat line in the end, the game marked the first time in 13 games that freshman Evan Boudreaux did not lead Dartmouth in scoring, as he finished with just 10 points on 2-10 shooting before fouling out in overtime. The Big Green (9-17, 3-9) were also just 2-11 from three with Wright’s being one and Malik Gill’s 28-footer that beat the shot clock buzzer (and gave Dartmouth its biggest lead at 50-44) with 9:09 left the other.

But how did the Big Green finish right at 1.00 points per possession then? Well, Connor Boehm took the ball right at Sears and Sherrod on several occasions and finished with 16 points in the process. Taylor Johnson, averaging just 6.4 points per game, finished with 18, largely by taking the ball to the hoop and getting fouled (10-10 FT).

“I can only speak to tonight where I just didn’t think defensively we had the same energy we’ve had every other game this season,” Jones said. “I thought that Dartmouth got some of the easiest baskets I’ve ever seen. From that standpoint, we weren’t great. Offensively, they packed it in and we missed some shots. You’re going to have games like this. We haven’t had one. We have been fortunate to beat every team we’ve played by double digits. This obviously was not the case tonight, and fortunately for us, we came out on the side we needed to.”

The Big Green had 11 turnovers on just 29 possessions in the first half, but trailed by just four, and as was alluded to at the beginning, had a shot or two more not gone in-and-out, it might have been a different outcome.

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2) Yale going forward

The Bulldogs are 28th nationally in defensive efficiency, and 51st in two-point defense, so it’s hard to say they’re vulnerable. Dartmouth also got nine offensive rebounds (30.0%), which isn’t a huge number, but above their average. So you can probably chalk the defensive numbers up to a bad day.

Offensively, though? Yale (5-18 Saturday) continues to drop in three-point shooting (now just 38.8% in Ivy play, well below Princeton even with its torrid start). Nick Victor was 3-5 (all came in the first half when Dartmouth tried a zone), which helped, but Anthony Dallier was 0-5. It seems like the Bulldogs need one more person to step up and hit open shots, especially in a game like at Columbia next weekend. It’s possible Dallier could be that guy still, but right now it’s a struggle.

Brandon Sherrod missed his first four shots Saturday also, but to his credit made some really big plays down the stretch, and they will need the Sherrod from earlier in the season as well. Yale did post 1.07 ppp overall, but fell to 3rd in the Ivy in offensive efficiency, behind Princeton and Columbia.

Game on from New Haven! #TMMLegacy

A photo posted by Ray Curren (@goldenbally) on

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3) Last call for Sears and seniors

Justin Sears will go down as one of the all-time greats at not just Yale, but the Ivy League, so it was interesting to see him get emotional in the postgame about his final home game, echoing what many college players are feeling this time of year.

“Earlier this morning, I was just sitting down before Dartmouth came in for shootaround and take it all in,” Sears said. “It’s a great gym, and I think I’ve spent more time in my Yale career here than in the library and in class, probably even in my bed. I don’t really know what to say, it’s surreal that it’s over. I just hope we can bring back a title and put a number on that banner before we’re done.”

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Goodbye John J. Lee Amphitheater. You were good to Yale this season. #TMMLegacy

A photo posted by Ray Curren (@goldenbally) on

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