Yale's 'guts' prevail in 'great victory' over Auburn

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SPOKANE, Wash. – The more Yale coach James Jones studied Auburn this week, the more convinced he was the Tigers – the No. 7-ranked team in the AP poll – were underseeded as a No. 4.

That’s why in the moments after Yale secured its second ever NCAA tournament win, upsetting Auburn, 78-76, at the Spokane Arena, he was quick to make a bold proclamation about its historical significance.

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

“As far as I’m concerned, Auburn is one of the better teams in the country. I couldn’t believe that they were a four seed in terms of what they’ve been able to do with their metrics.”

Most notably, Auburn was the No. 4-ranked team nationally in the well-respected kenpom.com ratings, which rely heavily on advanced statistics. The Tigers came into the game having just won the SEC tournament and lost to only one team all year that weren’t among the field of 64.

Despite all this, Yale showed no signs it was intimidated, even after trailing by seven points at halftime and falling behind by 10 with 7 minutes, 35 seconds left in the game. Each time the Tigers looked like they might pull away, the Bulldogs responded, often by a tough shot from John Poulakidas, who finished with a career-high 28 points on 10 of 15 shootings.

“I was trying to find out a way and an avenue for us to be successful and I don’t know that we went down the avenue I was thinking about,” Jones said. “We didn’t make free throws (21 of 31) and we turned the ball over (11 times), but the guys had enough guts and enough sticking together and staying together to give us a great victory.”

It doubles as a historic loss for Auburn. The Tigers came into the game 11-0 all-time in the Round of 64, which stood as the most wins without a loss of any team since the field expanded in 1985, according to ESPN Stats and Information, and the third-longest streak, behind Kansas 16 straight wins and Gonzaga (14).

“It’s tough to reflect on the season when you just go through one of the most disappointing losses in your career,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “I’ve been in the 12 spot. We’ve had these great wins. This is the biggest upset in NCAA tournament that I think I’ve experienced.”

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 tournaments, following Princeton’s victory over Arizona last year as a No. 15 seed. The Tigers went on to beat Missouri to advance to the Sweet 16 – a run the rest of the Ivy League took pride in, watching from home.

“We have a very undervalued league,” Poulakidas said. “I know everybody saw what Princeton did last year, obviously, and even this year, they had a tremendous season. Cornell almost went up to Ohio State and beat them. So, we have a really undervalued league and for us to come into this building today against a top-10 team in the country and perform how we did, I’m very proud of everybody in our locker room.

Yale, and other Ivy League teams, don’t get many opportunities to play quad 1 competition in nonconference play and, when they do, it’s usually on the road. That dynamic, Jones contends, skews the perception of the Ivy League’s quality.

“I’ve said this before, that two years ago we won the Ivy League championship and we played Purdue in the first round, but I think that Princeton was the best team in our conference and we were fortunate enough 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 in my mind, 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 hopefully it continues to move in the right direction.”

Yale finished in a second-place tie with Cornell in the regular season this year behind Princeton, which lost just three regular season games and was a No. 2 seed in the National Invitational Tournament.

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

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