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Bulldogs Scare Illinois Before Falling 69-65

Justin Sears (photo courtesy of Illinois Sports Information)
Justin Sears (photo courtesy of Illinois Sports Information)

Yale Outrebounds Illini 48-25

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Yale once again had an opportunity to knock off one of the big boys of college basketball, but a pair of Illinois guards didn't let it happen.

Kendrick Nunn (28 points) and Malcolm Hill (20) combined for 48 points in a hard-fought 69-65 Illini victory over the Bulldogs before a very nervous crowd of 11,648 at the State Farm Center.

Yale, which earlier in the season dropped a two-point decision to nationally ranked SMU and stayed with defending NCAA champion Duke for much of an 80-61 loss, dominated on the inside, outrebounding Illinois 48-25, but couldn't quite overcome a season-high 23 turnovers.

"We did an uncharacteristically poor job of handling the basketball," said James Jones, The Joel E. Smilow, Class of 1954 Head Coach of the Bulldogs.

Justin Sears paced Yale with 21 points, nine rebounds, two blocks and two steals despite being limited to 27 minutes because of foul trouble. Makai Mason added 15 points and Brandon Sherrod scored six points and grabbed a career-high 14 rebounds.

The Bulldogs (5-4) erased a 10-point deficit early in the second half by scoring 12 straight points, the last two coming on a Nick Victor layup that gave Yale a 37-35 lead.

The teams then traded the lead over the next seven minutes before Nunn and Hill took over down the stretch. Nunn's three-pointer snapped the final tie and gave Illinois the lead for good, 52-49, with 8:24 left.

Hill then scored five straight points as the Illini went up by seven. Still, the Bulldogs refused to go away. Mason's driving layup pulled Yale within three, 63-60, with 2:11 left, but Nunn answered with a huge three-pointer.

Mason's three-pointer cut the lead to two, 67-65, with two seconds left, but Nunn made two free throws to seal it for the Illini.

Nunn, who scored 18 of his points in the second half, finished 9-of-16 from the field, including 6-of-8 from three-point range.

Illinois won its second straight game and is now 5-5 on the season.

The Bulldogs, who had their two-game winning streak snapped, had 17 offensive rebounds against an Illinois team that came into the game ranked 31st in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage, grabbing 76.3 percent of missed shots on the defensive end.

"We did a great job of rebounding and attacking the glass," said Jones. "We had 28 misses and we got 17 of them back."

Victor, Sam Downey and Jack Montague all added seven points for the Bulldogs.

Yale was just 5-of-18 from three-point range.

Fifteen of Yale's turnovers came in the first half, and then the Bulldogs had five more in the final five minutes of the second half.

"You're never going to be able to win games when you do that," Jones said.

NOTES: Yale has one Illinois native on its roster – Sam Downey, who hails from Downers Grove outside of Chicago… This was only the third meeting between the Bulldogs and the Illini. The first came in the 1949 NCAA Tournament at Madison Square Garden… Yale plays its final game before a long break for final exams and the holiday on Sunday at USC. The tip is slated for 4 p.m. EST and the game will be televised on the Pac-12 Networks.

Report filed by Tim Bennett (timothy.bennett@yale.edu), Yale Sports Publicity