PROVIDENCE—Yale’s 79-75, upset win over 5th-seeded Baylor marks the first NCAA tournament win in Bulldog history.
“History will tell you that the Ivy League has done well recently in the NCAA tournament,” Yale head coach James Jones told media after Yale’s NCAA tourney win over Baylor. Recent Sweet 16 trips by Harvard and Cornell, and Pete Carril’s three NCAA wins at Princeton say as much.
While sports media personalities at ESPN and Sports Illustrated projected ex-Yale captain Jack Montague, expelled from the New Haven campus after star-chamber proceedings on a sexual assault charge not pursued by law enforcement, onto this historic narrative—scouring the stands for quotes from a college kid donning a red baseball cap—Yale guard Makai Mason quieted all sub-plots.
“We’re not on national TV every night. Guys haven’t heard of Makai Mason, and he just dropped 31,” Yale forward Justin Sears told reporters after the win.
Heeding his old man’s advice, Makai Mason cut his AAU basketball career short to improve an individual skillset good for 31 points (9-18 shooting). Mason controlled the afternoon, drilling contested end-of-shot-clock, pull-up jumpers, driving downhill, getting fouled and subsequently making all eleven of his free throw attempts. Although Mason and senior forward Justin Sears combined for 49 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists, a collective effort made history at Yale.
“They did a tremendous job of following the scouting report. We outrebounded Baylor,” Jones said.
While Yale controls the boards better than all NCAA teams but Michigan State, few predicted Ivy Leaguers would out-tough the Big 12 big-leaguers. Only Sam Downey collected more than six rebounds, but Yale secured a disproportionate 16-9 glass advantage in the first half and finished with a 36-32 overall edge over the second-best rebounding team in the Big 12. Baylor forward Rico Gathers matched a high major NCAA leading 4 offensive rebounds per game, but he grabbed none on the defensive end.
“You go up and grab the ball at the rim, grab it with two hands, and come down with it. That’s considered a rebound,” explained Baylor forward Taurean Prince after the loss.
While this hardly reads as a profound lecture on rebounding, Yale clearly pulled few gimmicks. They ended Baylor with a simple grab-your-lunch-pail, defend-and-rebound mentality. That the Bulldogs gave up only 15 free throw attempts and limited Baylor through a .385 second half defensive field goal percentage validates this claim.
Conversely, Yale paid homage to Ivy League NCAA tournament success templates on offense. Borrowing from Harvard’s upset formula in their 2013 NCAA tourney victory over New Mexico, Yale shot early and late. Nailing 64 percent of their first half field-goal attempts, they led 39-34 at halftime. When Yale employed the same impressive post passing Cornell dismantled the Syracuse 2-3 with in 2010, Baylor abandoned their trademark 1-1-3 zone for man-to-man. And when Yale assistant Matt Kingsley suggested that Jones sub Trey Phills for Mason for one offensive trip in the second half, Phills ran a Princeton backdoor cut for a layup.
While turnovers, missed shots, and fouls gave Baylor a 6-0 run and a one-point lead within the first two minutes of the second frame, Yale retaliated with a similar run. But the shooting woes continued for Baylor and neither Lester Medford nor Ishmail Wainright attacked the paint or got fouled.
When Wainright back-tapped a ball, then saved it from the endline, he hit a diving Jake Lindsey for a Baylor layup, cutting the lead to 72-70 with 1:12 remaining. Trapping once, then fouling at first by accident and later by design, Baylor matched Yale free throws with an uncontested layup from Medford and a contested three by Prince cutting the lead to 76-75. When Yale’s Nick Victor missed the second of two free throws, Baylor drove the length of the court down two with six ticks left, but Medford slipped and lost the basketball—and the game for good.