Despite a weekend of travel woes, Yale swept the always challenging Columbia-Cornell trip and now sits at 17-4 and 7-1 in the Ivies. The Elis maintain first place alone.
Not since the glory days of the Penn-Princeton rivalry in the last century has a game of basketball in Jadwin Gym matched the intensity of last night’s win over the Yale Bulldogs. Whatever each team brought to the floor – and each is very talented – was left on the floor.
The defending Ivy champions arrived in Jadwin after taking down an improving Penn squad at the Palestra on Friday, barely a week after the Tigers struggled mightily with the Quakers at home.
James Jones coached the last Ivy team to beat the Tigers in Princeton and that was nearly two years ago. Since then he has won two Ivy titles, one outright, but lost Justin Sears, Brandon Sherrod and Makai Mason. Their replacements, Miye Oni, Jordan Bruner and Alex Copeland, may reach similar heights, but last night the finest defensive effort of the Mitch Henderson era held the Bulldogs at bay until Princeton’s offense came to life in the second half.
1. Yale (2-1)
Who outside of New Haven expected Yale to have this kind of start when then-Ivy Player of the Year candidate Makai Mason was declared out for this season with a foot injury?
And who expected Yale to gel so quickly after Ivy Rookie of the Year candidate Jordan Bruner reportedly suffered an ACL sprain earlier this month?
What happened last year (23-7, 13-1): Nothing to see here, just the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance in 54 years and a thrilling NCAA first-round win over Baylor. Now graduated forward Justin Sears picked up a second straight Ivy Player of the Year award and now-junior guard Makai Mason established himself as a potential Ivy Player of the Year in future seasons with his clutch play all year, including a 31-point performance against Baylor.
For a deeper look back at Yale’s banner year, read our Ian Halpern’s comprehensive chronicle from April of the Bulldogs’ rise to championship history.
Last year, the Elis won their first outright Ivy title since 1962 and their first NCAA Tournament game ever. They narrowly lost to Duke in the round of 32 in Providence. This year’s version will present more of a challenge to heralded head coach, James Jones, who enters his 18th year as Elis coach and the dean of all Ivy coaches. Jones won the coveted mid-major Coach of the Year honor last year, along with a host of other honors.
It would be easy to point back to last season’s heartbreaking collapse and say that this year’s title run started simmering from the moment Javier Duren’s runner rimmed out at the Palestra on March 14, 2015. Certainly, that would be a convenient starting point for this narrative of redemption that culminated in this year’s seeding upset of the Baylor Bears. But anyone who’s been following the Bulldogs knows that this journey towards a title to call our own started long before that.
How did we get here?
There have been countless close calls since James Jones took the reins back at the turn of the century: the three-way tiebreaker in ’02 with Penn and Princeton, the thrilling up-tempo ’07 squad led by Eric Flato and Casey Hughes that started 9-2, beating undefeated Penn and sparking the only (non-Princeton) court storming I’ve ever witnessed at John J. Lee, the dangerous Greg Mangano-Reggie Willhite-Austin Morgan trio that raced out to fast start in ’12. But it wasn’t until Justin Sears arrived in New Haven that following summer that Jones could finally build around a true superstar in blue. And while getting to the Promised Land required contributions from everyone on this year’s squad from Blake Reynolds to Khaliq Ghani to Makai Mason, this was clearly Sears’ team.
But first, let’s go back to where it all began, back to a time when Yale basketball conjured up images of January hope and February despair, not the March ecstasy that we’ve come to know.
So very close.
No. 12 Yale came up just short in its bid for the first Sweet 16 appearance in program history, falling to No. 4 Duke, 71-64, in front of a pro-Yale partisan crowd at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence.