By Kevin Sweeney
Makai Mason had a career-high 31 points as Yale held off late-charging Baylor and earned their first-ever NCAA Tournament win, 79-75, on Thursday afternoon in a first round matchup in Providence, Rhode Island. The win sets up Yale for a second round matchup with Duke on Saturday.
The first half opened with Baylor in control, running to an early 15-9 lead. The 3 point ball was flowing in the early-going for the Bears, as they knocked down 3 triples in that 15-9 start. That seemed to spell trouble for Yale, who knew they couldn’t allow a 3-point barrage if they wanted to pull the upset. However, Mason took control of the game, turning the tides in favor of the Bulldogs. Overall, Mason had 17 of the Bulldogs’s 39 first half points to help turn the early 6 point deficit into a 5 point halftime lead for Yale.
Often, players come into a big game with their emotions running too high. It is always essential that players control their emotions in these big games. While Baylor seemed tense and on the edge the entire ballgame, Yale seemed cool and collected. At one point, Baylor stars Rico Gathers and Taurean Prince, both seniors, got into a physical altercation during a timeout.
On the other hand, the level-headed sophomore Mason kept Yale composed, even as Baylor made a huge push down the stretch. “I tried not to get too high or too low.” Mason said.
The second half went opposite to the first half. It was Yale who drew first blood in the second, extending their lead to double figures for extended stretches in the middle of the second half. Baylor, trying to avoid a first round exit for the second year in a row, started to turn things around. Jonathan Motley and Prince keyed the run, as Baylor was able to trim an 11 point deficit with under 6 minutes to play to just 2 with 1:12 to play. The Baylor full-court press bothered Yale. However, Mason was rock-solid from the foul line, 11-11 on the game, and Baylor turned it over with 2.2 seconds to go with a chance to tie or take the lead, and Yale escaped with the upset with.
Prince led the way for the Bears with 28 points. Motley added 15, and Ishmael Wainwright stuffed the stat sheet with 7 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists.
For Yale, Justin Sears supported Mason’s monster game with 18 points. Brandon Sherrod added 10 points and sealed the deal with 2 free throws in the closing seconds.
Yale will play Duke for the second time this season. In the first meeting, Yale lost 80-61 but trailed by just 2 at halftime. Duke provides a much different challenge than Baylor, as Duke’s guard play is the key, compared to Baylor’s size.