MEN'S BASKETBALL: March Madness coverage 2019
The Yale men’s basketball team advanced to March Madness for the second time in 57 years. Here is a compilation of the News’ coverage of the Bulldogs’ 2019 Big Dance experience.
For just the second time in 57 years, Yale men’s basketball earned a berth to the Big Dance.
In a 12-point victory over No. 1 Harvard (18–11, 10–4 Ivy) at John J. Lee Amphitheater, the Bulldogs (22–7, 10–4) built a second-half lead with a 15–0 run to overcome 38 points from Crimson guard Bryce Aiken and persistent foul trouble for guard Miye Oni ’20. Guard Alex Copeland ’19, named the Most Outstanding Player at Ivy Madness, facilitated Yale’s second-period surge and scored a team-high 25 points to help crown the Elis as the 2019 Ivy League Tournament Champions. Oni added 17, guard Azar Swain ’21 scored 15 with stellar three-point shooting and Yale shot over 60 percent to extend an already memorable postseason run.
For Alex Copeland ’19 and UC Irvine’s Max Hazzard, NCAA tournament berths turn middle-school dream to reality
Yale men’s basketball guard Alex Copeland ’19 knew he needed a good sleep before an Ivy Madness final against Harvard on Sunday. The senior dropped 16 points in a six-point semifinal win over Princeton Saturday afternoon, setting the stage for a Harvard-Yale matchup that would send the Elis to March Madness.
There was only one issue. UC Irvine (30–5, 15–1 Big West) guard Max Hazzard — Copeland’s best friend, former rival in Los Angeles’s Mission League and the Anteaters’ leading scorer — was preparing to lead his then-29-win squad over Cal State Fullerton in the Big West tournament championship, a contest that did not tip off until midnight on the East Coast. The Yale (22–7, 10–4 Ivy) senior, who said he talks with Hazzard every day and tunes into as many Irvine games as he can, settled on a compromise.
“I knew that I had to wake up early for our game against Harvard, so I sent him a really long text right before I went to sleep,” Copeland said. “I ended up waking up at four a.m. and checking it, and I saw that they won. I remember just smiling and feeling so overwhelmed and then going to bed with a smile…When I woke up, I then texted him and we talked a little bit and he said, ‘Hey man, go get it… I’m proud of you, whatever happens today.’”
The Yale men’s basketball team, for the second time in four years, earned an NCAA tournament berth. After downing rival Harvard in the final of the Ivy League tournament, the Elis earned a 14 seed in the East Regional of March Madness. They then headed to Jacksonville to go toe-to-toe with the third-seeded LSU Tigers, who rank 12th in the country according to the AP Top-25 poll.
In this story, the News highlighted a few things to know about the Bulldogs’ first-round opponent.
Although some have grumbled that Yale deserved a thirteen seed, the No. 14 Elis have garnered early attention — from college basketball analysts, average fans and even celebrities — as a popular upset pick.
Last time the Bulldogs made an appearance in the NCAA tournament, they toppled a fifth-seeded Baylor squad and earned the program’s first NCAA tournament victory. With head coach James Jones stating on Wednesday that the postseason will not alter the brand of basketball that Yale will play, there are some specific focuses that could be key in slaying the Bengals of Baton Rouge.
Early Thursday afternoon, Yale men’s basketball head coach James Jones hoped to lead his Bulldogs to another upset victory in only his second career NCAA tournament appearance — and the school’s second in 57 years.
After defeating Princeton and Harvard in New Haven to capture an Ivy Madness crown by scoring a combined 180 points across both games, No. 14 Yale (22–7, 10–4 Ivy) and its high-octane offense will meet the regular season champion out of the SEC, No. 3 LSU (26–6, 16–2 SEC). In attempting to shut down the Tigers and their star sophomore guard Tremont Waters — a New Haven native who Jones recruited — the Bulldogs will meet an athletic squad that has generated hype about its pace, freshmen class and dominance on the offensive glass.
But as Jones pointed out at media day, the Elis have largely held their own against high-major opponents like Miami and No. 1 overall seed Duke while defeating fifth-seeded Baylor back in the 2016 tournament — a win that featured minor contributions from the current senior class — without letting the opponent alter their approach to the game. Jones, in fact, watched the historic 79–75 win over the Bears on his laptop Tuesday night.
Of all eight cities hosting opening rounds of the 2019 NCAA tournament, Hartford and its XL Center may have attracted the largest Yale crowd.
In 2016, after all, the Bulldogs (22–7, 10–4 Ivy) played in Providence’s Dunkin’ Donuts Center, drawing a large Bulldog crowd in their 79–75 defeat of Baylor. But after Yale secured its spot in the NCAA tournament Sunday afternoon, forward Austin Williams ’20 had his heart set on another site. And within minutes of the Elis convening to watch CBS’s Selection Sunday show live, Jacksonville native Williams saw his wish realized.
“I was really hoping for [Jacksonville] for sure, just to get a chance to get home and see my friends and family,” Williams said. “And our closest game has been in Miami and a lot of my family didn’t end up being able to make it with work and stuff, so it’ll be a good chance — and the weather is nice.”
In its opening-round NCAA tournament matchup, Yale men’s basketball trailed third-seed LSU 68–62 with just over 60 seconds remaining when the Bulldogs began to foul.
The Tigers (27–6, 16–2 SEC) had hit only 10 of their 18 free throw attempts of the game when guard Miye Oni ’20 fouled Tiger guard Javonte Smart after a great three-point look that spiraled out. So when No. 14 Yale (22–8, 10–4 Ivy) started hacking Tigers on the inbounds, hopes of a late-game takeover remained. After shooting only 4-for-30 from deep for the first 39 minutes, Yale’s rushed pull-up attempts began falling — first it was guard Alex Copeland ’19 on the fast break with 44 seconds to go then forward Jordan Bruner ’20 in the corner. Copeland would hit from deep again while Bruner drained another three-pointer to cut the LSU lead to 77–74 with 12 seconds to play.
But LSU calmly knocked down its shots from the charity stripe down the stretch, shooting nine of 10 from the free throw line in the final minute. After trailing by 16 at halftime, Yale’s sustained second-half comeback and 24 points from Copeland kept the Elis a mere arm’s length from LSU’s lead for much of the period. It forever felt as if Yale was just one key stop and one big shot away from swinging its postseason fate around. LSU benefitted from a balanced attack that included double-doubles for forwards Naz Reid and Kavell Bigby-Williams and 19 points from guard Skylar Mays.
“I’m so proud of this group and just the fight that we showed,” Copeland said. “We were in the locker room at halftime, and I think we were a little down for a moment, but we all kind of came together and told each other, look, we can do this. We can fight back. We’ve been down before, and to come out and battle back like that and put on a show for our fans that were here and that were watching across the country feels amazing.”