The wait is over for Yale. After 54 long years without a NCAA Tournament appearance, including last year’s heartbreaking finish, the Yale Bulldogs put on their blinders, ignored the off-court events of this tumultuous week and buried the Columbia Lions with a focused 40-minute performance that left no doubt that they are finally the kings of the Ivy League.
Makai Mason started off hot with 13 first-half points, nailing his patented elbow jumper while Columbia looked for an answer. The Bulldogs threatened to run the Lions out of the building as Brandon Sherrod had his way on the glass inside, but Maodo Lo and Alex Rosenberg fought hard to keep the game tight going into the half at 41-27.
The second half was a back-and-forth affair as Columbia cut the lead to single digits and came within four at 49-45 before two huge corner threes from Mason and Khaliq Ghani (who had a huge weekend off the bench for the depth-depleted Bulldogs) stretched it back out to a 10-point margin.
It never got closer than eight points the rest of the way, as Yale, poised and determined to Dance for the first time in over a half century, closed out the Lions on the road.
As the final buzzer sounded, the Bulldogs ran together and celebrated at midcourt full of joy, joined by a few daring fans that had made the trip. It was a moment that most Yale fans in attendance had never witnessed before.
The postgame press conference with coach James Jones was a bit unusual. Typically stoic and tight-lipped, Jones spoke with a twinkle in his eye and a big smile, clearly enjoying the first minutes of his first trip to the NCAA Tournament. He stated strongly that this Yale team was the best he has ever coached.
“It’s certainly a relief and a joyous time for Yale basketball.”
Yale postgame comments
James Jones on the game’s final moments:
“There’s nothing better for a coach to stand on the sideline knowing that you can’t lose. They don’t have an 11-point play. So, time is going to tick off and I’m going to feel great in those few moments leading up to the end of the game. And that felt wonderful.”
James Jones on last season:
“Not once. Not once did I ever say one thing to these guys about last year. What happened last year or what we did last year. That’s not living in the moment for me. Living in the moment is with these guys and this team … in terms of motivation, these guys don’t need any more motivation than they already have in terms of what’s in front of them to be successful.”
James Jones on why Yale may be a tough out in the NCAA Tournament:
“We do three things. We defend our behinds off. We block out and rebound like nobody’s business and we share the ball. Those three things are what Yale basketball is made of right now. And when we stick to that routine — when we do that — we’re dangerous.”
James Jones on senior guard Khaliq Ghani, who scored six points in 13 minutes at Columbia and 12 points in 21 minutes at Cornell Friday:
“I’ve had more conversations with Khaliq than anybody in 17 years of coaching because he’s a different guy. And I’ve been wanting to pull out what he’s done this weekend for a long time. And something finally clicked in his brain, I guess, I don’t know. But it worked and I’m happy for it because he’s a big difference between us winning and losing today.”
Brandon Sherrod on whether anyone from the 1962 got in touch with him Saturday:
“No.” (laughter) “I don’t know if they would be able to text me. (more laughter)
Makai Mason on learning Princeton lost to Harvard on the bus Friday night:
“We were passing phones back and forth and everybody was huddled around a couple seats. Some guys didn’t even wanna hear the score until they knew it was over. But yeah, it probably wasn’t very safe but we kinda erupted on the bus and we were jumpin’ up and down.”
(James Jones cuts in)
“The greatest thing about sports is that it makes grown men act like children. I was about 7, Makai was 4 and a half, Brandon was 9 and it was just a great, joyous, wonderful, organic experience.”