February 11, 2012

Comeback Kids; Bulldogs Rally From 21-Point Second-Half Deficit, Stun Columbia 59-58

Willhite Scores 24 Points, Including Winning Layup With 13 Seconds Left

NEW YORK, N.Y. – Yale has made a habit of coming from behind throughout the season. The Bulldogs took it to a new level on Saturday.

Reggie Willhite's driving layup with 13 seconds left capped a memorable comeback and lifted Yale to a thrilling 59-58 victory over Columbia before a stunned crowd of 2,442 at Levien Gym.

The Bulldogs (16-6, 6-2 Ivy) trailed by 21 with 11:30 left in the second half.

Willhite finished with 24 points to pace Yale, who moved back within one game of first place Harvard. The Crimson lost to Princeton 70-62.

"Gritty is the only word I can use to describe it," said Willhite, who was 11-of-19 from the field and added five assists and seven steals. "We've shown a lot of resiliency all year. We've had a lot of close games and are battle tested."

Greg Mangano, who was in foul trouble for the second straight night, added 11 points for the Bulldogs. Austin Morgan and Jeremiah Kreisberg both had eight points.

Meiko Lyles led Columbia (14-10, 3-5 Ivy) with 17 points. Mark Cisco scored 12 points and grabbed 12 rebounds.

It was a Cisco jumper that gave the Lions their biggest lead, 51-30. The advantage was still eight, 58-50, after Lyles hit a three-pointer with 4:20 remaining, but Columbia didn't score again.

Jesse Pritchard's three-pointer pulled the Bulldogs within one with 37 seconds left. Yale's press then forced a Columbia turnover, setting up Willhite's dramatic layup.

"I saw the help side defender turn his head so I just took my man and went to the basket," Willhite said.

Still, Columbia had a chance to win when Blaise Staab was fouled with three seconds remaining. Staab, though, missed both free throws and Mangano grabbed the defensive rebound.

The last second victory came one night after the Bulldogs suffered a heartbreaking 85-84 overtime loss at Cornell.

"Our guys really clamped down and came together," said James Jones, The Joel E. Smilow, Class of 1954 Head Coach of Men's Basketball. "It was an unbelievable comeback."

A number of players had a role in the victory. Pritchard's three-pointer was huge, and freshman Brandon Sherrod scored five points and grabbed six rebounds in 17 minutes off the bench.

"It's the sign of a good team when you have several players making contributions," Jones said. "Greg was a little off, Austin was a little off but other guys stepped up."

Mangano picked up two early fouls, which limited him to only nine first-half minutes. Fortunately for the Bulldogs, Willhite picked up the slack. He was 6-of-9 from the field and had 14 of Yale's 23 first-half points.

 "Reggie had a monster game," Jones said.

Yale trailed 30-23 at the intermission.

Morgan, despite shooting only 3-of-9 from the field, hit a number of big shots late, scoring all eight of his points in the last 8:30.

NOTES: The largest deficit the Bulldogs had overcome entering Saturday's game was 13, which they did twice – in wins over Sacred Heart and Rhode Island… The comeback was reminiscent of last year's home win over Cornell when the Bulldogs rallied from a 10-point deficit in the final two minutes... Yale has now won the last six meetings with the Lions… Columbia shot 55.8 percent from the field in the game but committed 19 turnovers… The Lions outrebounded Yale 29-27… The Bulldogs are back on the road next weekend – at Dartmouth on Friday and at Harvard on Saturday. Both games begin at 7 p.m.

Report filed by Tim Bennett, Yale Sports Publicity

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