‘Courage, courage’ steers 13-seed Yale to ‘awesome’ win over Auburn, coach says
‘Courage, courage’ steers 13-seed Yale to ‘awesome’ win over Auburn, coach says

SPOKANE, Wash. — The more Yale coach James Jones studied Auburn this week, the more convinced he was that the Tigers — the No. 7 ranked team in the AP poll — were the No. 4 seed.

That’s why in the moments after Yale secured its second men’s NCAA Tournament victory, upsetting Auburn 78-76 at Spokane Arena, he was quick to make a bold statement about its historic significance.

“I don’t know if this is the best win in Yale basketball history,” Jones said, “but I’ll tell you this is the best basketball team we’ve beaten in Yale basketball history.

“As far as I’m concerned, Auburn is one of the best teams in the country. I couldn’t believe they were a 4-seed in terms of what they were able to do with their numbers.”

Most notably, Auburn was the nation’s No. 4 team in the respected KenPom.com rankings, which rely heavily on advanced statistics. The Tigers came into the game fresh off winning the SEC Tournament and losing to just one team all season that didn’t end up in the 64.

Through it all, Yale showed no signs of being intimidated, even after trailing by seven points at halftime and trailing by 10 with 7 minutes, 35 seconds left in the game. Every time the Tigers looked like they might pull away, the Bulldogs responded, often with a strong performance by John Poulakidas, who finished with a career-high 28 points on 10-of-15 shooting.

“I’ve been trying to find a way and a path for us to be successful, and I don’t know if we’ve gone the way I thought we would,” Jones said. “We didn’t take penalty kicks [21 of 31] and we turned the ball over [11 times]but the boys had enough guts and enough to stick together and stay together to give us a great win.”

This doubles as a historic loss for Auburn. The Tigers entered the game 11-0 all-time in the round of 16, which was the most wins without a loss by any team since the expansion of the field in 1985, according to ESPN Stats & Information. It was the third-longest hitting streak behind Kansas’ 16 and Gonzaga’s 14.

“It’s hard to think about the season when you’re just coming off one of the most disappointing losses of your career,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “I was in 12th place. We had these great wins. This is the biggest NCAA Tournament disappointment I think I’ve ever had.”

Yale’s win marks the second straight year an Ivy League team has defeated a Power 5 conference champion in the first round of the tournament, following No. 15 Princeton’s win over Arizona last year. The Tigers went on to beat Missouri to advance to the Sweet 16, a streak the rest of the Ivy League was proud of as it watched from home.

“We have a very underrated league,” Pulakidas said. “I know everybody saw what Princeton did last year, obviously, and even this year they had a great season. Cornell almost got to Ohio State and beat them. So we have a really underrated league and for us to walk into this building today against a top 10 team in the country and perform like we did, I’m very proud of everyone in our locker room.”

Yale and the other Ivy League teams don’t get many opportunities to play a Quad 1 contest in non-conference action, and when they do, it’s usually on the road. This dynamic, Jones argues, distorts the perception of the league’s quality.

“I’ve said this before, two years ago we won the Ivy League championship and we played Purdue in the first round, but I think Princeton was the best team in our conference and we were fortunate to win that championship,” Jones said. “Last year I think we were the best team in the conference and Princeton beat us in the championship game and they went to the Sweet 16.

“So I think we could have had two teams in the tournament good enough to win games. So very proud of our league and what we’ve done and we hope it continues to move in the right direction.”

Yale finished tied for second to Cornell in the regular season this year behind Princeton, which lost just three regular season games and was seeded No. 2 in the National Invitation Tournament.

“Every basketball player grows up watching March Madness the day they’re old enough to know what it’s like,” guard August Mahoney said. “And every year you see Cinderella stories and you see the underdog win some big games. And it’s a dream come true when you come to a school like Yale to not only succeed, but to win that game.”

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