The 2011-12 Harvard men’s basketball season ended in historic fashion. For the first time since 1946, the Crimson reached the NCAA tournament.
But Harvard’s tournament berth was not the only historic moment that occurred this past year. In its most successful season in program history, the Crimson accomplished a number of firsts: the squad won a Thanksgiving tournament, entered the top 25, downed three BCS-conference opponents, and claimed an outright conference title.
“I thought the season went well overall,” junior wing Christian Webster says. “We accomplished nearly every single one of our goals.”
The Crimson entered the 2011-12 season with high expectations. Harvard was returning its entire starting lineup—including reigning Ivy League Player of the Year Keith Wright—from a squad that shared the Ancient Eight crown and was one jumper away from the 2011 NCAA tournament.
The Crimson came out of the gates hot, opening the season with a pair of convincing wins over MIT and Holy Cross. Harvard then traveled to Los Angeles to take on a Loyola Marymount squad fresh off a double-digit victory over then-No. 17 UCLA.
After falling behind by as many as 12 in the first half, the Crimson battled back to take a four-point lead at the half. The visitor’s lead grew from there, as sophomore wing Laurent Rivard closed out the game with a team-high 20 points.
The next stop for Harvard was the Bahamas, where the Crimson participated in the Battle 4 Atlantis, a preseason tournament featuring the likes of then-No. 4 UConn and then-No. 22 Florida State.
The Crimson opened the tournament by dismantling a weak Utah squad, 75-47. The win set up a semifinal matchup with Florida State, an athletic ACC squad known for its stingy defense.
But when the teams met, it was the Crimson’s defense that prevailed. Harvard held the Seminoles to 41 points—which proved to be a season low for Florida State—and the Crimson came up with a five-point win and a berth in the championship.
In the Battle 4 Atlantis finale, Harvard met a University of Central Florida squad coming off an upset over UConn. Once again, the Crimson’s defense led the way, holding UCF to 49 points in a 59-49 win.
“That was just amazing,” Webster says. “That just helped us to realize how good we were.”
Along with its defense, crucial to Harvard’s success at the three-day tournament was the play of junior point guard Brandyn Curry. While Wright was named the tournament MVP, Curry shined in all three games, leading the charge on defense and coming up with timely baskets.
The team’s success on the defensive end continued when the Crimson returned to the United States, as Harvard bested eventual America East champion Vermont, 55-48, to improve to 7-0.
Rookie forward Jonah Travis helped extend Harvard’s winning streak to eight games by dropping 19 points and 10 rebounds in an 80-70 win over Seattle at Lavietes Pavilion.
The win propelled the Crimson into the top 25 for the first time in program history and set up a highly anticipated matchup with reigning-national champion UConn in Storrs, Conn., on ESPN2.