No. 12 Yale upsets No. 5 Baylor, 79–75, in historic victory
For two precious hours on Thursday afternoon, the nation watched as the Yale men’s basketball team snapped an NCAA Tournament drought of epic proportions in dramatic fashion.
The No. 12-seeded Bulldogs (23–6, 13–1 Ivy) relied on what they have done all season — tight defense, aggressive rebounding and strong play from their starters — to stun the No. 5-seeded Baylor Bears (22–12, 10–8 Big 12), 79–75, in the first round of March Madness.
Despite the controversy and widespread media attention surrounding the recent expulsion of former captain Jack Montague, and his planned lawsuit against the University, the Elis managed to capture headlines with their play on the court as they notched the first major upset of the NCAA Tournament.
“I thought it was a really well-played game by my team,” head coach James Jones said. “They did a tremendous job at following the scouting report, and the best statistic I can look at on this sheet here is that we outrebounded Baylor. They’re a big, strong, physical team … We did a great job making sure we got the lion’s share, though. It was the difference in the game.”
The Bulldogs last attended the Big Dance in 1962, but had never secured a victory prior to Thursday, compiling an 0–4 record in three appearances. Buoyed by what was essentially a home crowd, Yale put together a dominant performance that featured a 64 percent shooting clip in the first half and gritty defense in the second.
One last stop, however, and a pair of clutch free throws from forward Brandon Sherrod ’16 allowed the Bulldogs to outlast the Bears and preserve the monumental victory. The Bulldogs will now play No. 4 Duke, which defeated Yale 80–61 on Nov. 25, on Saturday, again in Providence.
First-team All-Ivy point guard Makai Mason ’18 made sure all of America learned his name, leading the Bulldogs with a career-high 31 points in the contest, including 17 in the first half alone.
“I thought Mason really controlled the game,” Baylor head coach Scott Drew said. “We had a difficult time matching him. We didn’t want to try to foul him at the end because he was 11 for 11 [at the line].”
Labelled a “bad little man” by CBS announcer and former NBA and college hoops star Chris Webber, Mason went 9–18 from the field in an electric performance.
Yale exploited the 1–3–1 defense of the Bears, who held a distinct height advantage in the contest, as Drew started two players over 6-foot-8 in forward Johnathan Motley and forward Taurean Prince. Forward Rico Gathers, who has said he will enter the NFL draft as a tight end, came off the bench for Baylor to add another imposing body on the Bears’ frontline.
Mason’s impressive first-half showing include a streak from 10:58 to 7:06 in which he made five consecutive field goals, including four pull-up jump shots and a three-pointer to turn a 17–13 deficit into a 24–23 advantage.
“I thought if I missed it, I’m sure our coach would have screamed at me,” Mason said of his three-pointer, which came in transition. “Luckily, I was able to knock it down. I just kind of felt in the zone and was able to hit some shots.”
The duo of Mason and forward Justin Sears ’16 combined to score 28 of Yale’s 39 first-half points. Baylor, meanwhile, put up 34 thanks in part to a 12-point first-half from Prince. The Bears, one season removed from a heartbreaking first-round upset at the hands of No. 14 Georgia St, found themselves in a frustratingly similar situation. At one point, Gathers and Prince exchanged words — and a shove — in a team huddle.
But following a 6–1 Baylor run to open the second frame, the Bears and the Bulldogs found themselves tied at 40 points apiece.
Yale battled foul trouble for much of the second period. Sherrod, who finished the contest with 10 points and six rebounds, played just eight minutes in the final stanza while Sears sat for nearly nine minutes, as both had four fouls. Fellow starter, guard Nick Victor ’16, also battled foul trouble and played the final 4:39 with four fouls, though the defensive stalwart finished with 39 minutes.
With Sherrod and Sears sidelined, the Elis received crucial contributions from the bench, which totaled 13 points as compared to 17 from Baylor’s reserves. During one sequence, starting guard Anthony Dallier ’17 and forward Blake Reynolds ’19, who provided 10 minutes off the bench, hit back-to-back three pointers to put the Elis ahead 51–45 with 12:57 left in the contest. Forward Sam Downey ’17 collected eight points and seven rebounds in his 16 minutes of action, providing valuable depth in the frontcourt.
“There have been a lot of naysayers that have said we don’t have any depth and we just have guys who are always ready to step up,” Sherrod said. “Coach talked before the game, just everyone doing their job and knowing where they need to step in. And it’s really awesome to see Sam Downey who has stepped up every game this year and really given us great minutes, and then Blake Reynolds coming into his role and just really having the guts to knock down a big-time shot.”
The Eli advantage swelled to as many as 13 in the second half, but the Bears cut the lead all the way down to four points with 1:21 remaining on the clock, capped by a three-pointer from Prince.
On the ensuing inbound, Gathers stole the pass and fed guard Jake Lindsey for an open layup that moved the score to 72–70.
In the final minute-and-a-half of play, the Bulldogs made seven of eleven free throw attempts, while Prince connected on two clutch three-pointers to keep Baylor within striking distance.
“Well, it got dicey there when Justin [Sears] turned the ball over out of bounds,” Jones said. “I have a lot of confidence in these guys being able to do what’s necessary.”
After Victor split a pair from the line to push Yale’s margin to 77–75, the Bears possessed a chance to tie or win the game with less than nine seconds remaining on the clock. But after dashing down the right sideline, Baylor point guard Lester Medford turned the ball over while attempting to drive past Mason.
Sherrod corralled the loose ball and, after being fouled with just two seconds on the clock, calmly knocked down a pair of foul shots to extend the lead to two possessions. Trailing by four, Baylor heaved a desperation three from beyond halfcourt as the Bulldog celebration began to spill onto the court.
Despite the nail-biting finish at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, Yale led for the final 14:06 of the contest. The Bears have now been bounced in the first round two seasons in a row, despite being the favorites.
Prince paced the Bears with 28 points on 12–24 shooting from the field, including four-of-seven shooting from beyond the three-point line. The forward also grabbed four rebounds and dished out three assists.
In what figured to be a physical matchup between two of the top rebounding teams in the NCAA, Yale outrebounded Baylor 36–32. Following Downey’s team-high seven boards was the trio of Mason, Sherrod and Victor, with each snatching six rebounds. Sears scored 18 points to go along with four rebounds and six assists.
After the game, Prince was asked how Yale managed to outrebound Baylor.
“You go up and grab the ball off the rim when it comes off,” Prince answered. “And then you grab it with two hands, and you come down with it, and that’s considered a rebound. So they got more of those than we did.”
Montague was in attendance at the game, seated in Yale’s main fan section throughout the win. When approached by reporters, he directed them to the statement his lawyer released last Monday announcing his intent to sue the University, explaining that he was there to support the team.
The Ivy League’s automatic NCAA Tournament bid has now resulted in five wins over the past seven tournaments.