Portions courtesy of Yale Sports Publicity
NEW YORK -- In a game reminiscent of a heavyweight fight, Yale and Columbia exchanged blows in the form of big baskets down the stretch until the Bulldogs delivered the knockout punch and prevailed 72-69 in a CollegeInsider.com Tournament (CIT) quarterfinal matchup in front of a capacity crowd at Levien Gymasium.
Junior guard Javier Duren led the way for Yale (18-13, 9-5 Ivy League) with a career-high 33 points, adding nine rebounds, three assists and two steals. The victory extends the Bulldogs' postseason run to a spot in the semifinals on the road against VMI on Tuesday, April 1. The game is slated to tipoff at 7 p.m. on the CBS Sports Network.
Yale has played three close contests in its CIT run with a last-second, banked three-pointer by sophomore forward Justin Sears to steal a one-point win over Quinnipiac in the first round. The Bulldogs then battled Holy Cross on the road and edged out a five-point victory to set up the matchup with Ivy League foe Columbia. All three wins have come against teams that had won at least 20 games.
For the Lions (21-13, 8-6 Ivy), the season comes to an end after a historic run that included earning their first postseason wins in program history. The 21 victories mark just the seventh time in program history that Columbia reached the 20-win plateau and the first time since the 1969-70 season.
"This is the time of year you want to still be playing," said Yale head coach James Jones. "The end of the regular season left a salty taste in our mouths. We felt we let an opportunity for a championship fall through our finger tips. To come out and play in this tournament gave us another chance."
The road to the semifinals has been anything but easy for the Bulldogs, who have trailed at halftime in two of the three games. The other was tied. All three have been decided in the final minutes.
Against Columbia, Yale was down 34-25 at the break. The Bulldogs, though, scored the first 13 points of the second half to get right back in it.
"Coach [Jones] really challenged us at halftime," said Duren. "We weren't playing to the best of our ability, and I took that to heart."
Duren was outstanding in the second half, making 7-of-10 shots from the field and 10-of-12 free throws, including several clutch ones down the stretch.
Yale needed every bit of it. The score was tied at 55 with four minutes remaining. The Bulldogs scored the next four points and extended the lead to 62-57 on a Sears free throw with 2:09 remaining.
Columbia, though, kept making three-pointers to stay alive. Maodo Lo's deep trey cut the deficit to one with 43 seconds left. That's when Duren made perhaps his biggest play of the night. After making the first of two free throws to push the lead to two, he missed the second but managed to grab the offensive rebound.
He was quickly fouled again, and this time sank both to increase the lead to four.
The Lions got back within one on a Steve Frankoski three-pointer with five seconds remaining before Duren sank two more free throws with two seconds left. Lo's desperation three-pointer from halfcourt at the buzzer missed, setting off a celebration on the Yale bench.
The performance was a bit of redemption for Duren, who missed Yale's 62-46 loss at Columbia late in the regular season with an injury.
"Having Javier on the floor as our leader is really important," Jones said.
Duren received plenty of support. Sears finished with 17 points, sophomore guard Jack Montague scored nine and junior guard Armani Cotton contributed eight points and six rebounds.
The Bulldogs were better at sharing the ball in the second half when they shot 62.5 percent from the field and scored 47 points.
"We know how good we can be when we trust each other," Duren said.
Sophomore Maodo Lo, who hit the game-winner in the Lions' win at Valparaiso in the first round, led the way for the Lions in the loss with a team-high 22 points. Junior forward Alex Rosenberg added 19 and junior center Cory Osetkowski scored 10. The Lions were 15-of-28 from three-point range in the game.
Yale, though, controlled the boards, outrebounding Columbia 32-20, including 18-8 in the second half.