Our George “Toothless Tiger” Clark caught up with Princeton coach Mitch Henderson at Cameron Indoor Stadium just hours before Princeton’s tilt with Duke Tuesday. Listen to hear Henderson explain why he scheduled the game at Duke, break down Drew Friberg’s crucial second-half production in the Tigers’ comeback win over Iona, explain how Jaelin Llewellyn is unlike any freshman he’s ever seen and why Jose Morales is a “junkyard dog,” detail Richmond Aririguzoh’s development, the qualities his senior class has displayed, why Penn appears to have “that look” to him and much more:
Defense and offensive rebounding have been the calling cards for Yale head basketball coach James Jones ever since his arrival in New Haven in 1999. Right now, he sits as the dean of Ivy basketball coaches, the winningest Yale coach in history and the only Yale coach to guide the Elis to an NCAA win, a victory over favored Baylor in Providence in 2016.
Last year, Yale finished at 18-11 and 9-5 in the Ivies and just a game away from another NCAA tourney. In the first season of the Ivy postseason tourney, the Elis won a thrilling game over Harvard before falling by 12 to Princeton at the Palestra as the Tigers capped a 16-0 run through Ivy competition.
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.
With the exception of a few high-profile bloviators, most people around college basketball (and everyone that regularly reads this blog, for that matter) knew that Yale had a solid shot against Baylor on Thursday.
We all know that the Bulldogs delivered — and have about as favorable a matchup as they could possibly get in the round of 32, getting a Duke team they’ve already faced.
Having had the opportunity to watch both teams play in the round of 64 on Thursday in Providence, I’ve come up with a bit of a game plan for Yale to become the first Ivy team to reach the Sweet Sixteen since Cornell made its magical run in 2010.
As Brandon Sherrod iced Baylor from the foul line Thursday afternoon, two thoughts quickly popped into the minds of Ivy basketball enthusiasts. First, a sense of shock that Yale had actually pulled off the upset and second, that next in line for the Elis was Duke, one of the bluest of college basketball’s bluebloods.
The question posed to all non-Yale Ivy fans was, do we root for team loyalty or conference loyalty? You, the esteemed reader, might be dealing with this dilemma yourself. Is it really worth rooting for Duke (Duke!) just for the sake of hoping a conference rival doesn’t make it past the first weekend? Here to tackle this issue are two Columbia fans who are definitely not bitter that their team has not made the tournament in their lifetimes while others experience joy: Miles Johnson is taking the pro-Yale (or at least anti-Duke) side, and Sam Tydings would rather see Grayson Allen smile than Yale advance to the Sweet 16.
Yale made history just by showing up. Then the Bulldogs made a whole lot more.
In Yale’s first NCAA Tournament game since 1962, the Bulldogs won their first contest in the tourney ever, besting the Bears, 79-75, after leading most of the way in front of a Yale partisan crowd at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence.