Sunday, February 28, 2016

March Madness: Gearing Up

On Senior Night and Alumni Weekend, gearing up for March Madness, Yale faced a feisty Dartmouth team, but managed a win in overtime (YWAA photos)
Yale basketball is gearing up for a March to remember, a March, well, that eclipses last year, when the men's team tied for the Ivy title, but missed making it to the NCAA tournament after a harsh, frustrating loss to Harvard in a play-off game in Philadelphia.

This year's team (with a 20-6 record) has been on a February roll and seeks a rematch with Princeton for the right to vault into the NCAA's Big Dance.  The Bulldogs have lost only one Ivy League game (at Princeton).

What's at stake? As alumni who pay attention to Yale basketball, past and present, know, Yale hasn't had a spot in the spectacular hoopla of March Madness since 1962. In 2015, it missed a basket in the waning seconds to gain a rung in the tournament brackets.

In 2016, Yale whisked through the early weeks of Ivy games, but was dealt a crushing blow when its captain and leading outside shooter Jack Montague '16 left the team for personal reasons. Princeton and Yale, both with one Ivy loss, are headed for a possible one-game showdown Mar. 12 at the Palestra.

During alumni weekend for former players in New Haven, Feb. 26-27, Yale pummeled Harvard with ease, 59-50, on Friday and managed to squeak out a win, 76-71, Saturday against a Dartmouth team playing with surprising verve and resolve. A mid-range jumper by Makai Mason '18 with seconds to go tied the game in regulation, and Yale won in overtime to ensure this year's senior class had played their last game in Payne Whitney as victors.

On Senior Night against the Big Green, Brandon Sherrod '16, Yale's musically talented power forward, had 16 points, 7 rebounds.  Sherrod is popularly known for having left the team a year ago to sing with the Yale Whiffenpoofs (in concerts in 27 countries, he acknowledges). 

Westchester isn't represented on the current squad. Westchester's Butch Graves '84, Yale's all-time leading scorer and, many contend, its best player ever, leads the Yale Basketball Association, the alumni organization, which includes a handful of Westchester alumni. Johnny Lee '58 '59MEng., a Westchester resident until he died in 2001 and for whom the amphitheater at Payne Whitney is named, led the Yale team to NCAA tournament in 1957.

Westchester's Matt Townsend '15 (from Chappaqua) was a starting forward and significant rebounder on the co-Ivy League champion  team last year. This year, Townsend, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate, is in Oxford for the first year of his Rhodes Scholarship experience.

The Bulldogs hope to meet Princeton in a one-game play-off in Philadelphia, Mar. 12, to secure a berth in the NCAA tournament for the first time in 54 years (YWAA photos).

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