Yale nearly makes history — again — in 71–64 loss to Duke
The 2015–16 season of the Yale men’s basketball team featured the end of the second-longest tournament drought in the NCAA, a new record for consecutive field goals made and an upset victory over Baylor that marked the Yale program’s first ever NCAA Tournament win.
And during the second half of Saturday afternoon’s matchup with No. 4-seeded Duke, the No. 12-seeded Bulldogs had much of the nation wondering if they might add another historic landmark to that list.
Over a 22-minute stretch that began in the first half, Yale (23–7, 13–1 Ivy) cut a 27-point Duke (25–10, 11–7 ACC) advantage to just three with 40.1 seconds left, putting itself in position to potentially break the record of 25 points for the largest comeback in NCAA Tournament history. The Bulldogs, spurred by a 15–0 run and the energy of an electric Yale-heavy crowd in Providence, had a berth to the Sweet 16 — and the defending national champions — within striking distance.
But stories must end at some point, and the story of this Eli team was finally sealed with less than 10 seconds remaining in the game. Yale point guard Makai Mason ’18, fresh off a heroic 31-point outing versus Baylor, heaved a desperation three that never hit the rim, leading Yale to foul point guard Grayson Allen after the ensuing rebound.
With 8.2 seconds and a 69–64 advantage for the No. 4-seeded Blue Devils showing on the scoreboard, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski turned to the Blue Devil crowd behind him and repeatedly yelled “Yes!” — celebrating his own team’s triumph while simultaneously marking the end of a historic run for Yale.
When the final buzzer sounded, Duke had earned a 71–64 victory over the Bulldogs.
“I thought we took some ill-advised shots, but we got it back in the second half, and our guys fought,” Yale head coach James Jones said. “I couldn’t be more proud of what they did … And I told these guys in the locker room, there are 351 teams that play Division I basketball. We made it down to the final 32, and we’re three possessions away from the being in the final 16.”
In many ways, Yale executed as it had hoped. The Bulldogs relentlessly attacked the glass at both ends of the floor, outrebounding Duke 42–28 while grabbing 20 offensive rebounds to Duke’s five.
That effort resulted in a dramatic Yale advantage in second-chance points. The Elis translated those additional opportunities into 21 points while Duke scored just two on second chances.
“That’s what we hang our hat on, offensive rebounding,” forward Justin Sears ’16 said. “We have that advantage. I think we did pound the glass very hard and very well, and that’s what led to our comeback. I think we strayed away from going inside. They were doubling us, and we really didn’t take advantage of our interior offense and our post presence in this game.”
Additionally, the discrepancy between the two teams’ shooting from three-point range proved too much for Yale to overcome.
Twenty-one seconds into the game, Duke’s freshman phenom Brandon Ingram nailed a three from the left wing that wound up being an unfortunate sign of things to come for Yale.
The Blue Devils shot 63 percent from the field in the first half, including a remarkable 9–15 performance from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, Yale made just 11 field goals total in the frame, hindered by a 1–11 effort from deep.
“It was one of those halves where everything we shot went in,” Krzyzewski said. They had open looks. I think they were 1–11 from three in the first half … at halftime, I said, you know, we have kind of like fool’s gold a little bit, in that we think we’re playing better defense than we are. Because their two wings [Mason and guard Nick Victor ’16] are 40 percent three-point shooters, and they didn’t hit a shot, and in the second half they did.”
Yale could not find an answer for Duke point guard Grayson Allen, who nailed four of six three-pointers en route to 22 points in the opening period. At one point in the half, Allen had outscored Yale by himself, 22–19.
Duke point guard Grayson Allen.
The sophomore guard finished with a game-high 29 points on 10–15 shooting — including 5–7 from beyond the arc — from the floor.
The Bulldogs, meanwhile, turned the ball over five times in the first half, leading to 13 points for the Blue Devils. Yale’s leading scorers on the season, Mason and Sears, were kept in check in that first frame, as Mason scored six points while Sears was held scoreless. Sears, the two-time Ivy League Player of the Year, struggled to operate effectively against the length of Duke’s frontline, led by the 6-foot-9 Ingram.
The Blue Devils’ dominant first half included a 17–0 run, as the Bulldogs went scoreless for a stretch of 5:38 that allowed Duke’s lead to swell to 46–19 with less than three minutes remaining in the period.
Tasked with a 48–25 halftime deficit to overcome, Yale began to rewrite the game’s story with a 18–2 run early in the second half to cut Duke’s lead to seven with 11 and a half minutes to play.
“Allen as well as Ingram hit some tough shots, and all you could do was throw your hands up and say, okay, next play,” Sears said. “Coach told us at halftime eventually they’ll start missing, go cold, and that’s what happened the second half. We played a little harder, got in their faces a little more, and eventually the shots stopped falling.”
Consecutive three-pointers from guards Anthony Dallier ’17 and Victor moved the score to 54–38 with 14:43 remaining. The Bulldogs then tacked on nine more unanswered points, five of which forward Brandon Sherrod ’16 contributed.
In that time, Duke missed eight consecutive shots.
Dallier turned in one of the best games he has played all season. The junior tied his season-high scoring total with twelve points in the contest, including two three-pointers, and collected five rebounds.
An emphatic slam from Sears with 12:36 left brought the deficit to single digits for the first time in more than 17 minutes. A Sherrod lay-in capped the game-changing run, which captivated and enthralled much of the 12,000-plus crowd at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. Sherrod wound up pacing the Elis with 22 points on 10–17 shooting.
The two teams then traded baskets with the Duke lead stabilizing at nine with exactly six minutes remaining. For the next 2:26, neither team was able to score until Ingram snapped the drought with a three-pointer that pushed the lead back to double-digits.
Down 65–53 with just a few minutes possibly remaining in their historic season, the Bulldogs put together one of their best two-and-a-half minute stretches of basketball all season long. Sears, who tallied seven offensive rebounds, tipped in a Victor miss. Sherrod blocked an Ingram layup attempt and converted that into another two Yale points.
“I just tried to do what I could for my team,” Sherrod said. “We had the home fans. It felt like a home game, and I was feeding off the energy from the crowd as well. We wanted to give them what they bought their tickets for, wanted to give them their money’s worth with the effort that we put in in the second half.”
Victor and Sherrod then stole the ball on consecutive possessions, flustering the Blue Devils and creating opportunities for the Bulldogs to get to the line. Dallier and Sears combined to go 4–4 from the line in a 28-second span, allowing Yale to cut Duke’s lead to 65–61 with 1:08 to play.
Coming out of its final timeout and up by five with 0:52 on the clock, Duke fouled Sherrod under the basket. The senior drained the first but the second rimmed out, and Blue Devil center Marshall Plumlee inadvertently tipped in the missed free throw. The two points were awarded to Sears, who finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds — his sixth double-double of the season.
Thanks to the tip-in, the Elis were down by a single possession with 0:39 seconds remaining as Duke clung to a 67–64 lead.
But ultimately, Yale failed to fully close the gap, as Ingram knocked down a clutch pair of foul shots to extend the lead. On the following possession, Sherrod missed a layup in traffic, forcing Yale to foul again.
This time, Ingram missed the front end of a one-and-one with 16 seconds left, giving Yale one more chance to cut into the lead. At that point, however, Mason missed a contested three from well beyond the three-point line. Allen secured the rebound and then scored the final two points of the game from the foul line to seal the 71–64 win.
“We have played in games where teams have kind of creeped back in, and that is exactly what Yale did,” guard Luke Kennard, who scored 13 points in the contest, said. “We just have to figure out the way to keep that lead and keep that momentum our way. But hats off to Yale. They placed a great game. They have senior leadership and great players.”
The Bulldogs finished their historic year with the most wins in a season since the 1906–07 team, which finished 30–7–1.
Duke, meanwhile, moves on to play next Thursday in Anaheim against the winner of Sunday’s matchup between No. 1-seeded Oregon and No. 8-seeded Saint Joseph’s.