The Yale Bulldogs celebrate their win over the Baylor Bears.
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The Ivy League has produced its share of surprise winners in the NCAA Tournament. It can add Yale to that list of bracket spoilers.
Makai Mason had a career-high 31 points, including six of Yale’s final nine points, and the No. 12 seed Bulldogs held on to upset No. 5 seed Baylor 79-75 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday.
Yale (23-6) earns its first NCAA Tournament victory. It comes in its first appearance since 1962.
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"This was bigger than us, and we wanted to do it for all the Yale faithful out there," said senior Justin Sears. ""It’s great right now. I don’t think it’s really hit us how big this is yet."
Afterward, the Bulldogs celebrated like a team that had been waiting 54 years to play in the big dance.
When the final horn sounded, coach James Jones walked across the floor with his arms raised. Stopping in front a cheering throng of Yale fans, he slammed both hands down on the scorer’s table before again lifting his arms high.
Since Cornell made a Cinderella run to the Sweet 16 in 2010, Ivy League teams have gone 4-3 in first-round games. That Cornell team, coincidentally, was also a No. 12 seed. The Bulldogs advance to face fourth-seeded Duke on Saturday. Sears added 18 points. Brandon Sherrod finished with 10.
Yale’s Brandon Sherrod (left) and Anthony Dallier celebrate the Ivy League school’s first-ever NCAA Tournament win.
"The guys in this locker room have known," said Yale guard Nick Victor. "People outside, they always thought we couldn’t win this one. We knew from the start that we could do this."
The Bulldogs controlled the game from the opening tap, and suffocated a Baylor defense with its quickness and nullified its advantage inside with methodical movement on offense.
Mason was the catalyst, connecting on nine of his 18 field goal attempts, and going a perfect 11 for 11 from the free throw line.
"I kind of just felt in the zone, I guess," Mason said. "I guess I thought if I missed it, I’m sure our coach would have screamed at me…Luckily, I was able to knock it down."
For Baylor (22-12), it is the second straight first-round exit from the tournament. The Bears lost on a last-second 3-pointer last year in a Georgia State’s memorable victory.
Taurean Prince led Baylor (22-12) with 28 points. Johnathan Motley finished with 15 points and seven rebounds.
"We just got outrebounded and they played harder than us the whole 40 minutes," Prince said.
Yale forward Justin Sears (22) dunks against the Baylor Bears during the first half.
Yale played a chunk of the second half without Sears and Brandon Sherrod after both picked up their fourth fouls. Both returned with just over four minutes to play in the game.
The Bulldogs led by as many as 13 points in the second half before having its lead cut it to 76-75.
Baylor applied full court pressure on the inbounds play, but Yale got a long pass into Nick Victor, who was fouled with 6.8 seconds left.
Victor connected on the first, but air balled the second attempt. Baylor got the ball into Lester Medford. He slipped on his way to the basket, turning it over.
"Yale did a great job in the second half making things tough for us to score," Baylor coach Scott Drew said. "We only shot 38 percent. But I thought Mason really controlled the game. We had a difficult time matching him."
Expelled Yale player Jack Montague, dismissed last month because of a sexual assault allegation, was in the stands for the game. Wearing a pink hat and sitting with a bunch of fans across from the Yale bench, Montague said he was there as a fan to cheer for his teammates but declined further comment.
Montague, the team captain, was expelled Feb. 10 from the university over a sexual encounter that occurred in October 2014. Montague’s attorney, Max Stern, said this week that the dispute is about whether the woman consented to the sex. Montague claims she consented, she claims she did not, Stern said.
Yale: The win gave the Bulldogs their most wins since 1906-07, when the team won 30 games. … The last No. 12 seeds to win a first round game were Harvard, Stephen F. Austin and N. Dakota State in 2014. … Yale is 23-0 this season win leading heading into the final five minutes of the game.
Baylor: Was outrebounded by the Bulldogs 36-32. …Last NCAA tournament win was in 2014.