After losing two regular season games to Harvard, Yale (18-10) turned on its arch rival in the second semi-final of the first-ever Ivy League Men’s Basketball Tournament and emerged with a hard fought 73-71 victory at the Penn Palestra.
As a result, instead of returning to New Haven, Yale will spend another night in Philadelphia and take the floor again Sunday at 12-noon to face league champion Princeton (21-6) for the “Ivy Madness” championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Not looking like the team that swept through the regular Ivy season undefeated, the Tigers ultimately achieved a come-from-behind 72-64 overtime decision over host Pennsylvania earlier in the afternoon. But they had to tie the game with just six seconds left and then rely on a Penn miss on the last shot of regulation.
Freshmen star for both teams
Harvard freshman Bryce Aiken, who had two 20-plus performance against the Bulldogs this season, again tormented Yale by scoring 28 points, but Yale’s own pair of first-year players, Miye Oni and Jordan Bruner, were the difference in the game, especially in the closing minutes.
Oni, who opened the game with a 3-pointer, scored 18, and Bruner, with 11, put in three consecutive baskets with less than four minutes remaining, after Harvard had tied the score for only the third and final time.
Harvard’s comeback was aided by Yale missing badly from the foul line, where it converted at just a rate of 47.5 percent.
Yale, which led at the half 38-30, never trailed and twice was up by 13 in the second half, the last time 47-34 with 16:48 remaining.
The final tie was at 62-62, before Bruner made his three out of three field goals.
One of only two seniors in the Yale lineup, Sam Downey, had 13 points and 10 rebounds. Yet Yale, as a team, was out-rebounded (46-43) for one of the few times this season.
More work to be done
Amazingly, Yale is now on the bubble for its second consecutive ticket to the Big Dance. It will require the huge task of beating the two top teams in the Ivy League, Harvard and Princeton, back-to back, within a period of less than 24-hours. Half of that challenge has been met successfully.