No. 13 Yale eyes another shocker vs. San Diego State

League: NCAA Basketball

Posted on: 24 Mar, 2024 at 12:43 AM

Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Fifth-seeded San Diego State is aiming for a Sweet 16 appearance to piggyback on last year's run to the NCAA title game.

But Yale has a bigger milestone to shoot for when the teams meet in Sunday's East Region second-round clash at Spokane, Wash.

The 13th-seeded Bulldogs (23-9) notched a 78-76 upset of No. 4 Auburn on Friday for the program's second-ever NCAA Tournament victory.

Now Yale has a chance to join last season's Princeton squad as the rare Ivy League school to reach the Sweet 16. The Tigers were just the fourth Ivy team to advance that far since the tourney expanded to 32 teams in 1975.

"We can hoop and we know that and now two years in a row we've been able to show the country that the Ivy League can compete with anybody in the country," Yale forward Matt Knowling said.

"So to be able to be a part of that this year and to get a win in the NCAA Tournament is pretty cool."

Team captain August Mahoney realized immediately that the victory over Auburn put his team on the map. One victory in March brings more attention than any regular-season winning streak or individual accolade.

"Every basketball player grows up watching March Madness the day they're old enough to know what it is," Mahoney said. "You see Cinderella stories every year and you see the underdog win some big games.

"It's a dream come true when you come to a school like Yale to not only make it, but to win that game. And as a senior, this is my last chance."

Yale shocked Auburn partly due to the shooting by John Poulakidas, who made six 3-pointers and scored 28 points.

"I think after I hit my first couple shots, obviously the flood gates opened," Poulakidas said. "But I'm just so glad that we had this opportunity first and could capitalize on it."

San Diego State (25-10) opened the tournament with a 69-65 victory over 12th-seeded UAB.

The Aztecs' reliance on defense is well-known after last season's memorable run that ended with the loss to UConn in the final.

But San Diego State also has an offensive force, All-American Jaedon LeDee, who was a reserve on last season's squad.

LeDee scored 32 points on 11-of-18 shooting as he repeatedly found open spaces against the Blazers.

His point total is the highest by a San Diego State player in the NCAA tourney. The old mark was 30 by Xavier Thames against North Dakota State in 2014.

LeDee said he didn't do anything different while reaching 30 for the fourth time this season.

"Just out there playing my game, playing with my teammates," LeDee said. "I know the severity of the situation, for sure. I mean, you win one game or you're done. So I'm just out there giving it my all and just making sure it's not our last game."

Aztecs coach Brian Dutcher said earlier in the week that the pressure situations from last year's run would pay off at some point in the tournament. After all, San Diego State reached the title game on Lamont Butler's buzzer-beating shot to slay Florida Atlantic in the Final Four.

And Dutcher saw it happen Friday when UAB was scrambling back from a 12-point deficit.

"I told the team after the game that experience means something," Dutcher said. "I think all that experience we got last year paid off. When they came back, took a lead, we didn't panic, we stayed focused, we played hard, and we found a way to win.

"That's what this time of year is. Not everybody's going to win that deserves to win and not everyone's going to lose who deserves to lose. It's just March Madness and ‘survive and advance.'"

--Field Level Media