Yale topples Baylor to secure NCAA tournament's first major upset

The Dagger
Yale vs. Baylor
Yale vs. Baylor

Yale players were congratulating each other in the locker room after securing this year's first major NCAA tournament upset when coach James Jones burst through the doors with a huge smile on his face.

Only then did the party really start.

Jones dove into the arms of two players and the rest mobbed him and threw water in the air, a celebration befitting perhaps the program's most significant victory. 

In its first NCAA tournament appearance in 54 years, 12th-seeded Yale ousted fifth-seeded Baylor 79-75 on Thursday afternoon. The Ivy League champ's first NCAA tournament victory in program history earned them a round of 32 matchup with fourth-seeded Duke on Saturday. 

For Yale, Thursday's win was the culmination of a gradual climb under Jones, the longest-tenured coach in the Ivy League. Yale has finished in the top four in the Ivy League 16 consecutive seasons, but the Bulldogs have have never won the league outright, overshadowed first by Penn and Princeton, then by Cornell and most recently by rival Harvard.

That this season proved to be Jones' breakthrough is a result of the trio of standout players he recruited to lead this team.

Two-time Ivy League player of the year Justin Sears is a longtime tennis player who didn't start playing basketball until eighth grade. Leading scorer Makai Mason is an accomplished former prep school star with a choir-boy face and a lethal first step to the basket. Fifth-year senior Brandon Sherrod took a year off from basketball last season to tour with a world-famous acapella group.

Those three combined for 59 of Yale's 79 points on Thursday, but none were involved in the decisive sequence of the game.

That arrived when Baylor sent Yale's Nick Victor to the foul line with nine seconds to go and Yale's 13-point second-half lead down to one. The 54.5 percent foul shooter rattled in the first and air-balled the second, but the Bears could not take advantage as point guard Lester Medford lost control of the ball trying to make a move in the open floor.

It's unlikely Yale would have built a double-digit lead were it not for the heroics of Mason, who scored 31 points on 9-for-18 shooting and carved up Baylor's zone with his passing and dribble penetration. His brilliance helped the Bulldogs expand their lead even as Sears and Sherrod sat on the bench with second-half foul trouble.

Yale's first-ever NCAA tournament victory could shine an even greater spotlight on a program that has been mired in controversy recently. Players and coaches have fielded frequent questions about former captain Jack Montague, who was dismissed from the team last month and has since disputed claims that he assaulted a woman on campus.

That Yale managed to beat Baylor in the midst of that scandal is a testament to its focus and resilience. This is a Bears team that won 22 games and did not lose a single game against a sub-RPI top 50 opponent all season. 

Baylor rallied behind 28 points from forward Taurean Prince, but the Bears again found themselves out of the NCAA tournament on by nightfall of the first day. Last season, 14th-seeded Georgia State upset Baylor on a memorable late 3-pointer from R.J. Hunter.

The Yale Bulldogs celebrate defeating the Baylor Bears 79-75 during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 17, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
The Yale Bulldogs celebrate defeating the Baylor Bears 79-75 during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 17, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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