After two free throws from Dartmouth’s Malik Gill boosted his team’s lead to 13 with 3:49 to play in Saturday’s contest, the heavily-favored Harvard men’s basketball team appeared to be headed for its first loss to the Big Green since 2009.
And when the Crimson found itself still trailing by double digits with fewer than two minutes to go, a bleak outcome seemed all but certain.
But co-captain Christian Webster had other plans.
The senior's nine points on three-of-three shooting from deep in the final few minutes of the game helped the Crimson (10-6, 2-0 Ivy) come back to force overtime and eventually claim a dramatic victory over Dartmouth (4-12, 0-2), 82-77, at Lavietes Pavilion.
“You need to be lucky in those situations, and luck was on our side,” Webster said. “We just made plays that they didn’t make. But all the credit to them. They should have won the game.”
With 1:33 to play, Webster got the ball at the top of the key and released his first of three long-range attempts in the final stretch. The shot found the bottom of the net, pulling the Crimson to within seven.
After the Big Green's Gabas Maldunas botched the front end of a one-and-one, junior co-captain Laurent Rivard attempted a three and was fouled at the other end. His two points at the stripe pushed the score to 57-52 with 1:11 left to play.
“A lot of things can happen in a minute and a half,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “You’re just trying to see. You’re playing it out. That’s what we do.”
Thanks to two more treys from Webster in the final minute of the game, four points from freshman point guard Siyani Chambers, and four missed Dartmouth free throws down the stretch, Harvard knotted the game at 62 on a Chambers layup with 18 seconds remaining in the contest. The Big Green had a chance to win on its final possession, but Gill missed a long three to send the contest into overtime.
In the extra period, Harvard came out strong, and a Rivard long ball gave the Crimson its first advantage since it led, 2-0, in the opening minutes of the game. Though Dartmouth began to find its shooting stride at the end of the extra period, it was too little too late for the Big Green. Dartmouth got within four on a three by John Golden at the 1:05 mark, but the Crimson was able to close out the contest from the line, knocking down 12 of 13 free throws in the final two minutes of play.
“Our kids believed in it,” Amaker said. “It was an incredible shot in the arm for our team to be in that position [in overtime]. I thought we had the confidence as the game went down the stretch to pull through.”
The Big Green came out strong on Saturday, knocking down six of its first eight shots to claim a 12-4 advantage with 15:33 to play in the half. And though Harvard pulled within five as late as 2:28, Dartmouth was able to stretch the advantage back to nine and went into the break up, 29-20, after a half in which the Crimson committed 12 turnovers.
Early in the second half, Harvard cut the Big Green’s lead to five with 17:14 to play on an and-one by sophomore wing Wesley Saunders. But Dartmouth pushed its advantage back up to 10 less than two minutes later.
“It’s tough being in a position like Dartmouth is right now,” Amaker said. “They played their hearts out and deserved to win.”
With the exception of sophomore forward Jonah Travis, who had 10 points in the first half on 4-of-5 shooting, Harvard struggled from the field in the opening frame, making just seven of its 21 shots on the half. The Crimson’s top three scorers—Saunders, Chambers, and Rivard—combined for just six points in the period.
But by the game's end, Chambers led the Crimson with 21 points while Saunders chipped in with 20 and Travis added 16.
John Golden and Gill led the Big Green with 15 points, while Connor Boehm scored 14.
“In a lot of ways, we didn’t deserve to win it,” Amaker said. “But we had an opportunity to see if we could steal it, and I thought it was obvious that we did some incredible things down the stretch.”
—Staff writer Catherine E. Coppinger can be reached at email@example.com.