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Valiant Comeback Falls Just Short Vs. Duke In NCAA Tournament

Justin Sears (Dave Silverman)
Justin Sears (Dave Silverman)

Blue Devils End Yale's Season With 71-64 Victory

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Yale's NCAA Tournament run has come to an end, but it certainly won't be forgotten any time soon. Certainly not by the 11,679 fans, a large majority of which were cheering on the Bulldogs, on hand at the Dunkin' Donuts Center. After falling behind by as many as 27 points in the first half, Yale nearly staged the biggest comeback in the history of the tournament. In the end, though, fourth-seeded Duke hung on for a 71-64 victory over No. 12 Yale.

"I couldn't be more proud of what they did, to forcing a comeback and giving themselves an opportunity to win the basketball game," said James Jones, The Joel E. Smilow, Class of 1954 Head Coach of the Bulldogs. "And I told these guys in the locker room, there are 351 teams that play Division I basketball. We made it down to the final 32, and we're three possessions away from being in the final 16. I couldn't be more proud of them, especially our seniors."

Duke, which moves on to Anaheim in the West Region, probably played one of the best halves in tournament history in the opening 20 minutes. The Blue Devils (25-10) shot 60.7 percent from the field, 60 percent from three-point range and committed just two turnovers in building a 48-25 lead.

The second half was a different story. Trailing 54-32 early in the second half, Anthony Dallier and Nick Victor hit back-to-back three-pointers which ignited a 15-0 run that pulled the Bulldogs within seven with 11:40 left.

With the pro-Yale crowd in a frenzy, the Bulldogs kept chipping away. A Justin Sears put back cut the lead to three, 67-64, with 39 seconds left.

Brandon Ingram, though, hit two free throws, and Makai Mason missed a three-pointer what would have pulled Yale within two. Grayson Allen then hit two free throws with eight seconds left to seal the victory for the Blue Devils.

"We beat a heck of a team," said Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski. "We knew going into the game, we were playing a championship level team and a team that's old, extremely well-coached and together."

Brandon Sherrod paced the Bulldogs with 22 points. Sears added 12 points and 11 rebounds. Dallier also scored 12 points, Makai Mason had eight and Nick Victor and Sam Downey each scored five.

Allen scored 29 points and Ingram added 25 for Duke. The two, though, scored 33 of their points in the opening 20 minutes.

The Blue Devils made only six field goals in the second half.

"Duke hit us with a heavy haymaker, but we got in the locker room and we said we have 20 more minutes to make a statement," said Sears. "That's all we could do, and we had a valiant comeback."

The loss ends what has been a memorable year for the Bulldogs, who won the first NCAA Tournament game in school history on Thursday over Baylor and finished with 23 overall victories, the most in a season since the 1906-07 team went 30-7-1. Yale, the Ivy League champion, won 18 of its final 20 games and lost only twice in the calendar year 2016.

"It's been a dream, a dream come true," said Sherrod, whose 22 points were three shy of his career high. "Every person dreams of playing in the NCAA Tournament and winning a game. And to be the first team in school history to win one is unbelievable. A lot of hard work has been put in, and these guys have really grown and matured over the years."

NOTES: Yale outrebounded the Blue Devils 42-28... Seven of Sears' 11 rebounds came at the offensive end… Sears, one of four seniors playing for the final time at Yale, ends his outstanding career third in school history with 1,700 career points, fourth with 814 rebounds and second with 200 blocked shots… Sherrod, Victor and Khaliq Ghani also suited up for the final time… With the Yale band on spring break, the Hillhouse High School band made the trip, as they did on Thursday, and were outstanding… The crowd was overwhelmingly in Yale's favor throughout the game, and the decibel level reached its highest level during the 15-0 run in the second half. "To have that energy and to have people rallying behind you and to be on such a fun run, we were really enjoying ourselves out there on the court and just feeding off each other," Sherrod said… The Bulldogs are tentatively scheduled to open the 2016-17 season at home against Hartford in November.

Report filed by Tim Bennett (timothy.bennett@yale.edu), Yale Sports Publicity