Our Richard Kent chronicles Yale”s trip to Durham to face defending national champion No. 6 Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium Wednesday. Yale lost to Duke, 80-61, but Kent astutely observed a whole lot more than a final score.
Tuesday 6 p.m. Time for the Yale hard practice in Cameron Indoor Stadium. The building seemed a lot smaller in person and loads of camera phone pictures were taken before the practice started. Then the team and certainly the coaches were all business. Coach James Jones was as intense as I have ever seen him. The practice was orchestrated to the minute. Assistant coach Justin Simon, a former Bulldog himself, was in charge of the Duke scouting report. He was focused to a large extent on the Duke post players and wanted to be certain that forwards Justin Sears and Brandon Sherrod were positioned properly. Both players seemed to pick up the report easily and Sears was focused on working on his short-range side jumper and free throws.
Jones at times was upset with the team”s effort and he clearly wanted the intensity to mirror his own intensity and his consummate preparation for Duke. He knew that his team could have beaten a very strong SMU team with better than 14-for-24 free throw shooting and wanted the win badly against Duke. He was not in Durham for a moral victory, and that was clear 15 minutes into the practice. Sophomore guard Makai Mason and senior guard Jack Montague were knocking down jumpers with ease and also driving to the basket with abandon. Senior guard Nick Victor, the glue of the team, never broke a smile or a grin during the rugged two-hour workout.
Wednesday 11 a.m. The team went through a walk through at the Duke practice facility and once again it was all business. It was then a meal back at the hotel and a trip back to Cameron around 3:45 p.m.
6 p.m. The atmosphere around the building, even though many students were on break, was nothing short of wild. Hundreds of graduate students were in a line which stretched partially around Cameron and a line which had started to form hours before the game. Coach Jones sat in a warm-up suit, watching both team shoot around before leaving at around 6:30 p.m. to change into his patented dark suit.
6:57 p.m. Coach Jones had come out onto the court and Mike Krzyzewski walked out to a throng of applause. Clearly, a celebrity was in the crowd. He shook hands with Jones and his assistants and then went back to the bench.
7:01 p.m. The national anthem was sung by a military member, who got a huge hug from coach K, a military man himself, after his beautiful rendition was completed. The crowd of 9,314 was getting loud.
7:05 p.m. The game started and Yale was amped. The Bulldogs jumped out to a 9-0 lead, much to the surprise of the crowd. They were running their offensive sets perfectly and Duke was not hitting from the outside. Yale maintained an 11-3 lead at the 16:37 mark. Duke then went on an 11-4 run. Coach K had inserted 6-9 frosh Brandon Ingram, who was a difficult matchup at guard and forward. Duke also switched to a 1-3-1 zone and it was effective, given the length of the team. The Blue Devils closed the half on a 14-5 run, to claim a narrow 38-36 lead. Sherrod picked up his third foul right before the half.
7:52 p.m. Duke opened the second half on a 5-0 run. Sherrod quickly picked up his fourth foul and Jones had to take him out. Freshman Blake Reynolds spelled him with skill, but he doesn”t have the strength or bulk of Sherrod, who is a titan of strength. Yale got deeper into foul trouble and Duke went on a number of runs behind Matt Jones and Ingram. Sherrod was inserted again and soon picked up his fifth on a questionable call. Jones had a 30-second talk with one of the officials directly after that foul and the calls started to go distinctly in Yale”s direction. Yale still had 24 fouls whistled, to just 12 for Duke. Too little, too late. Duke expanded the lead and went on to win, 80-61. It was a much closer game than the score would indicate, though, and Sears finished with a game-high 19 points.
9:15 p.m. In his postgame press conference, coach K praised Yale and noted that Sears would be an outstanding ACC player. He also heaped praise on the Yale guards. He privately told this writer afterward that Sears would start for his team. High praise from the top coach in the game, with a squad packed with McDonald”s All-Americans.
10 p.m. Yale left Cameron, with their heads up, knowing that they had battled two of the best teams in the country to a near draw for 30 out of 40 minutes. The road trip would continue on Sunday, at 2-3 but still very tough Albany, Jones”s alma mater.