The Bulldogs are headed back to the Big Dance.
Yale men’s basketball earned its third NCAA Tournament berth in five opportunities since 2016 with a 66-64 win over Princeton in the Ivy League Tournament final Sunday afternoon at Lavietes Pavilion.
No. 2 Yale never trailed after the first three minutes and hung on late to preserve an advantage that had ballooned to a high of 11 points at 38-27 with 16:07 to play.
The Bulldogs led 64-55 with 42 seconds left, powered by a hot shooting half from All-Ivy first-team senior guard Azar Swain and clutch plays at both ends from Bez Mbeng.
That’s when No. 1 Princeton senior guard Ethan Wright canned a three-pointer, followed by Yale’s second five-second violation in a four-minute span and then a triple from Princeton senior guard Jaelin Llewellyn.
Llewellyn hit another trey after two free throws from Mbeng, narrowing the Bulldogs’ lead to 66-64 with 24 seconds left. Junior forward Isaiah Kelly missed two free throws, setting up Princeton to tie or win the game in regulation.
But Llewellyn ran out of room trying to find an open Tiger underneath Yale’s basket, stepping out of bounds and turning the ball over to the Bulldogs (19-11) with two seconds left, sealing both teams’ fates.
Princeton’s hot shooting spree in the final minute came too late. The Tigers (23-6) missed a bevy of open looks from beyond the arc, shooting 7-for-27 (25.9%) from three-point range until the last minute of the game.
That wasn’t enough for the Tigers, who entered the game with the sixth-best shooting percentage in the nation (38.7%).
Swain finished with a game-high 23 points on 9-for-21 field-goal shooting. Fifteen of those points came in the second half, when the Brockton, Mass. native heated up after a cold shooting start.
“He’s one of the toughest people I’ve ever been around,” Yale coach James Jones said of Swain. “Just a tough, hard-nosed kid.”
“I’m just so grateful to give back to Yale,” Swain said. “Yale and coach Jones changed my life, so it’s just an amazing moment to kind of give that back a little bit.”
Complementary scorers stepped up to solidify the early Yale lead that never dissipated, led by Mbeng. The first-year guard contributed 13 points on 4-for-9 shooting from the field, 11 rebounds, three steals and two assists in 32 minutes.
The Tigers, meanwhile, struggled to sustain any offensive efficiency outside Ivy Player of the Year Tosan Evbuomwan.
“We’ve been able to score all season, and tonight just didn’t go our way,” Princeton coach Mitch Henderson said. “I’m hopeful at some point we can remind these guys and they’ll realize they had a hell of a year and they’re a special team, a special group of guys to coach.”
The junior forward notched 20 points on 8-for-13 shooting from the field, 11 rebounds, five assists and two steals in 37 minutes. His teammates shot just 17-for-48 (35.4%).
“Overall, I thought we did a pretty good job on the defensive end,” Evbuomwan said. “It just didn’t go our way.”
Yale becomes the first Ivy, men’s or women’s, to win an Ivy League Tournament without claiming a share of the regular season championship. The Bulldogs finished Ivy play 11-3 in the regular season, a game behind Princeton at 12-2. The teams split the regular season series, winning on each other’s home floor.
The Tigers’ regular season championship qualifies them for the NIT.
The Bulldogs will try to post the Ivy League’s first NCAA Tournament win since 2016, when they upset No. 5 Baylor as a No. 12 seed.