There is no separate place for press conferences at Dartmouth’s Leede Arena, so when Yale coach James Jones emerged from the locker room, he was immediately in front of the few cameras and reporters that made the trip to Hanover, N.H. on a Saturday night where there was plenty else going on in the sports world.
There was no ESPN as there was the night before in Boston, no Sports Illustrated, no New York Times. The crowd was announced at 1,237 and certainly made themselves heard at the end, but it was far from the raucous, oppressive charged atmosphere at Harvard’s Lavietes Gym that Yale had conquered 24 hours earlier.
To lose to Dartmouth was bad enough, although the Big Green won five straight to finish the season and had beaten Harvard earlier in the Ivy League season, so no one who was paying attention expected them to roll over in their final game. But the confluence of events in the final 24 seconds that allowed a Yale 57-52 lead to somehow morph into a 59-58 loss will be hard to eradicate from the recesses of minds that were ready to hoist the Ivy League trophy, which just so happened to be hiding underneath the media table and had to be discretely evacuated from Hanover after Dartmouth’s stunning comeback. So Jones, seeing the reporters, just said, “Give me a minute” and walked right past to nowhere in particular to collect his thoughts. “You have ups and downs,” Jones said when he returned seconds later. “Now we have a chance to continue to play. We won a championship, no one can take that away from us and now we have to go out and play for the right to play in the NCAA Tournament. There’s nothing wrong with that, we just have to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, have a great week of practice and be ready to go.” Yale turned the ball over 18 times (29.0%), went 9-17 from the free throw line including missing all three front ends of 1-and-1s in the second half, and missed several shots down the stretch, including Javier Duren, the senior who couldn’t miss the night before. But it led 57-52 when Connor Boehm missed a three-pointer badly and it looked like Armani Cotton grabbed the rebound before being whistled for a foul. Miles Wright hit both free throws and then Duren expected to get fouled (might have gotten fouled), but a held ball was called, giving the ball to Dartmouth (14-14, 7-7). Cotton couldn’t get around a Boehm screen and Wright drilled a three-pointer with 13 seconds left to tie. Duren was fouled with 2.3 seconds left and made the second of two to give Yale a 58-57 lead. Dartmouth was out of time outs and had to go 94 feet, but Jones called one to set his defense. Wright overthrew Gabas Maldunas, but Sears – unsure of what was behind him – knocked the ball out of bounds underneath the Big Green basket, and there was still 1.9 seconds left. “I misinterpreted,” Sears said. “I thought that one of the Dartmouth players tipped the ball so I thought if I hit it again, more time would come off the clock. Unfortunately, I was the last guy to hit it.”
Now without a time out, Sears and Matt Townsend got confused on a screen, Maldunas was open, and all he had to do was lay the ball in with 0.5 seconds left.
“The last play we have run it before,” Dartmouth coach Paul Cormier said. “But we had a little wrinkle, so they probably would have seen it, but we put a little wrinkle into it where we had our first option being Gabas who is our tallest guy, we wanted him to get a lob. Our best passer from that situation is John Golden, senior to senior which is kind of fitting with our only two seniors, and the guy who set the screen is someone no one wants to leave in Alex (Mitola). Everything just worked and the pass was perfect.”
And it was over.
“I’ve already put it in the rear view mirror,” Jones said. “You can’t do anything about it. At the end of the game, I was thinking about if I had that guy in or this guy in at this time, but none of it matters now, the game’s over. You can’t do anything about it. Right now we have to get ready to play Harvard next Saturday.”
They do have one more shot, and it is probably good that the Bulldogs (22-9, 11-3) will have a week to recover from those 24 seconds. But those mental scars might still be apparent when Yale takes the floor against Harvard, having apparently killed off their nemesis once and for all just the week before only to see them again in the flesh.
You especially feel for Sears, who has a good case to be Ivy League Player of the Year, and will wish until the end of time that he let the ball go out of bounds without touching it. But life doesn’t work that way, of course. What’s done is done, and mistakes are a part of the game (and life), even when they come at the most inopportune times.
Most of us know the music and Wide World Of Sports’ words, “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,” and Yale experienced both in consecutive days. But the next line may be less known but more poignant: “the human drama of athletic competition”.
The Ivy League drama will continue to next week at The Palestra in Philadelphia where Harvard and Yale – who split their first two meetings – will meet, and one will represent the Ivy League in the NCAA Tournament, with Yale still looking to break a 53-year hex that looked for all the world like it had run its course.
Yale let a chance slip away, but as agonized as they likely feel on Saturday, they get one more shot.
“We want to make sure we just get better this week,” Jones said. “It was a great opportunity for us, but we didn’t finish it off. But we still have another chance. We get another chance.”
See you in Philly.