NEW YORK — Yale finally ended its long NCAA Tournament drought.
Makai Mason scored 22 and Brandon Sherrod added 13 to lead Yale to a 71-55 victory over Columbia on Saturday night, clinching the Bulldogs’ first NCAA bid since 1962.
The Bulldogs shared the Ivy championship last year with Harvard, but lost the playoff game with the Crimson.
"It’s amazing," Sherrod said. "You look up in the gym and see the last time we got to tournament was 1962, it really motivates you to win. Every college basketball player wants to go to the big dance. It’s unbelievable, great time for our school, great opportunity for our team. It’s surreal."
Saturday’s win ended the second longest NCAA drought of any team that has made the tournament previously, according to STATS. Only Dartmouth (1959) has gone longer without making it. Columbia is now third on that list, having not made the NCAAs since 1968.
Yale won without its captain Jack Montague, who left the team last month. The school has declined to detail why he left. Montague’s family didn’t return messages left by The Associated Press, but his father told the New Haven Register on Friday that his son was expelled.
"It’s not something we talk about," Yale coach James Jones said. "We coach basketball and play basketball, deal with guys that are in the room and do the best we can."
The team did FaceTime with Montague before the game.
The Ivy League remains the only conference not to have a postseason tournament so the regular season champion goes to the NCAAs.
The Bulldogs (22-6, 13-1 Ivy) jumped out to a 17-3 lead as Columbia missed nine of its first 10 shots. Consecutive 3-pointers by Anthony Dallier capped the opening run 6:38 into the game.
Yale extended the advantage to 27-10 before Maodo Lo scored 10 straight points for the Lions, who used a 15-4 burst to close to within six with 4:31 left in the half. But that’s as close as they’d get. Mason scored seven straight points during a 10-2 spurt to close the half and give the Bulldogs a 41-27 lead at the break.
Columbia rallied within 49-45 with 9:12 left, but consecutive 3-pointers by Mason and Khaliq Ghani restored the double-digit lead with 7:17 left. Columbia could only get within six the rest of the way.
As the final seconds ran down, Yale started to celebrate the end of 54 years of frustration with coach James Jones hugging his players.
Lo scored 21 points to lead Columbia (21-10, 10-4). The Lions are in the midst of one of the most successful seasons in school history. They already have the most regular season wins in program history since the 1950-51 season when Columbia won 23 games. The Lions were trying to win 11 league games for the first time since 1978.
They honored seniors Lo, Alex Rosenberg, Isaac Cohen and Grant Mullins before the game. The quartet is the winningest class for Columbia since 1953.
"I love our team, these guys were once young guys in the locker room," Columbia coach Kyle Smith said. "These four seniors logged a lot of minutes, won more than most and set a number of records. You go back 45-50 years to some of the accomplishments they made. They’ll be missed for sure."