Brandon Sherrod helps cut down the net at Payne Whitney Gymnasium during Yale's tournament selection watch party in New Haven, Conn., Sunday, March 13, 2016. Yale has opened up the gym to the public and set up a movie screen at center court for fans to wa
Pat Eaton-Robb
March 16, 2016

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) There's no question that Yale has had to deal with some tough off the court issues on their way to the NCAA Tournament following the expulsion last month of captain Jack Montague because of a sexual assault allegation.

But Yale's players say they are refusing to let it be a distraction as the 12th-seeded Bulldogs head into their West Region first-round matchup with fifth seed Baylor.

''I really can't comment on the Jack situation specifically, but like I've said before basketball is a sanctuary. We go to one of the hardest academic schools in the country, and when we step on the court all the outside distractions are gone,'' said senior forward and Ivy League player of the year Justin Sears.

''This is the game we love to play. And when I step on the court, I'm not thinking about anything except putting the ball in the basket and helping my team win,'' he said.

Montague was averaging 9.7 points per game prior to his Feb. 10 expulsion from the university over a sexual encounter that occurred in October 2014. Montague's attorney, Max Stern, said this week that the dispute is about whether the woman consented to the sex. Montague claims she consented, she claims she did not, Stern said.

Montague has not been charged with any crimes and police and prosecutors say there is no investigation. Stern said Montague plans to sue to school over his dismissal.

Yale's players publicly supported Montague after he was dismissed, wearing warm-up T-shirts during a nationally televised Feb. 26 game against Harvard that featured Montague's number, nickname and the word ''Yale'' spelled backward. That drew backlash from campus groups, prompting the team to apologize.

The team went 7-1 without Montague, finishing 22-6 and winning the Ivy League championship with a 13-1 league record.

It is Yale's first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 1962.

It is that accomplishment and not the allegations that coach James Jones said he is focusing on.

''I've been a head coach at Yale for 17 years. This is the first time we've made the tournament since (1962). We are one of the best defensive teams in the country. We are one of the best rebounding teams in the country,'' Jones said. ''So I think that's a great story. And I'd like to tell that one going forward.''

As Yale made its run, it struggled to gain support on campus as groups spoke out against Yale's players for supporting Montague and used the incident to speak out more broadly about sexual misconduct.

Jones said he's pleased with how his team finished the season given the issue.

''These young men that I've had the privilege to coach are wonderful people, and they're focused every day in practice,'' Jones said.

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Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/khightower

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