With 5.7 seconds remaining, junior forward Kyle Casey took an inbounds pass under the basket, and Tyler Bernardini slid over to defend. Casey went up, banked in a layup, and Lavietes Pavilion exploded, thinking the Crimson had just retaken a one-point lead over Penn in a vitally important Ancient Eight contest.
But lost in the ensuing raucous was the sound of a whistle. The ref signaled a charge, Casey’s basket was waived off, and the Quakers gained possession.
Out of a timeout, Penn inbounded the ball to half court, where Bernardini got rid it before the Crimson could foul, and just like that, the game was over.
The Quakers had pulled off the upset with its season on the line, while for the third time in two years, Harvard had suffered a heartbreaking, late-season, one-point conference loss in the final seconds.
With a win on its home court—where it had not lost in 28 consecutive games—the Crimson (24-4, 10-2 Ivy) would have clinched at least a share of its second consecutive Ivy title.
Instead, the Quakers’ 55-54 victory denied that possibility, evening Penn (17-11, 9-2) with the Crimson in the loss column of the conference standings, stunning the home crowd, and setting up the possibility of another one-game playoff in the Ivy League.
With a victory on Saturday, Harvard would have been able to win its first-ever outright championship by beating either Cornell or Columbia next weekend. Now, even if it sweeps its New York road trip, the Quakers can set up a playoff by winning its final three games against Brown, Yale, and Princeton.
“It’s a devastating loss, it’s a disappointing loss, and we should feel those [emotions],” Crimson coach Tommy Amaker said. “The good thing is if we can channel it in the right way, maybe it can help us, and that’s what we’re hoping for next week.”
The Quakers finished the contest on a 15-5 run, wiping away a nine-point Crimson lead with eight minutes to go.
With the Senior Night game on the line, it was Penn’s senior, Zack Rosen, who played like he wanted it the most down the stretch. The point guard—the Ancient Eight’s leading scorer—had the final nine Quaker points, including two free-throws to give Penn a one-point lead with 23 seconds left on the clock.
On Harvard’s ensuing possession, the Crimson found Corbin Miller open for three, but the freshman’s shot rimmed out. Harvard grabbed the offensive rebound, and Amaker called timeout.
The coach orchestrated a play for Casey, and the junior attacked the basket. But Bernardini got over in time and drew the charge—much to the dismay of the home crowd—and Harvard would not get another chance.
“From where I was, it didn’t look like a charge, but the ref made the call,” junior point guard Brandyn Curry said. “There’s nothing we can do with that; we’re not going to blame the loss on one call. There were multiple reasons why we were in that position.... [We had] a lot of missed opportunities.”
The Crimson led, 49-40, at the 8:10 mark, but Curry missed an open three from the right wing that would have pushed the advantage to double-digits.
Behind Rosen, Penn slowly began clawing back. Two free-throws by the senior and four points from Henry Brooks cut the deficit to five with 4:47 to go.