Comeback Game of the Year: Men's Basketball 82, Dartmouth 77

Robert F Worley

Freshman Siyani Chambers’ layup with 18 seconds remaining in regulation evened the score at 62 in the Crimson’s Jan. 26 matchup with Dartmouth. Harvard, which trailed by 10 with 1:33 to play in regulation, went on to win in overtime, 82-77.

If it were possible to mute the frenzied crowd at the end of regulation, the only audible sound would have been that of a dozen pencils in the hands of sportswriters furiously erasing their ledes.

With 10 points separating Dartmouth and Harvard and only 93 seconds left in regulation, the story was already written. Dartmouth, a scrappy squad that had hung tight with Harvard earlier in the year, had finally gotten over the hump and dealt a serious blow to the Crimson’s chances to repeat as Ivy League champions. Harvard junior co-captain Laurent Rivard was the face of the frustrating afternoon, hitting none of his six three-point attempts and even clanging his lone free throw try.

But luckily for the Crimson, sporting events have a way of bucking the narrative.

A three-pointer from co-captain Christian Webster seemed to allow Harvard to save some face, cutting the deficit to 57-50, and the Crimson quickly fouled to send the Big Green’s Gabas Maldunas to the line for a one-and-one. Maldunas whiffed, and soon sent Rivard to the line with a foul on a trey attempt. Harvard had halved the deficit in little more than 20 seconds. After the two teams exchanged buckets, another Webster three with 41 seconds to play brought the game to within one possession, 60-57, and caused the interested murmur from the crowd to rise to barely-believing shouts. Yet another Harvard foul and two Big Green free throws raised the margin back to five.

Then Lavietes Pavilion lost its collective mind.

With 32 seconds remaining, Webster buried another three-pointer from the top of the key, his third in the space of a minute. Sophomore Wesley Saunders fouled Dartmouth’s John Golden, sending him to the line for two shots. With the crowd at full volume, Golden missed the first. Then he missed the second, with the rebound falling to Rivard, who quickly dumped it to point guard Siyani Chambers. The freshman raced down the court, blew past Dartmouth guard Malik Gill, and slashed into the vacated interior to lay the ball in and tie up the score. A roaring crowd and a missed three-pointer on the other end sent the game and NBC Sports’ programming schedule into overtime.

“Our shots weren’t falling [early in the game], so they were able to collapse in the paint a lot,” Webster said after the game. “Then when I made a couple shots...Siyani was free to drive, made a good move, and got to the basket.”

There wasn’t a whole lot of drama left over for the extra period. A 6-0 run sparked by a Rivard three—his first made field goal of the game—gave the Crimson its first lead since 2-0, one it would not relinquish for the rest of the contest. All that Harvard required was some composure at the free throw line, which Rivard, Chambers, and Saunders delivered, sealing the win and allowing the Crimson to breathe a massive sigh of relief.

“One of the crazy things about the game of basketball is that you have to play it out,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “We practice certain things to be in those positions. Do they always go perfectly? No, but we practice those kind of moments.”

Had the Crimson’s comeback bid fallen short, the team would have been dealt its first Ivy loss of the season in a game it was heavily favored to win, putting it at a disadvantage in what was to be a tense struggle with Princeton for the conference crown. Harvard ultimately prevailed over the Tigers for the Ivy title by one game.

The late game swings reminded Amaker of two occasions earlier in the season in which his team was on the other side of the comeback. On Dec. 31, Harvard had a 10-point lead over Saint Mary’s with less than four minutes to play and, on Nov. 13, it held a five-point advantage over UMass with a minute and a half remaining. The Crimson lost both games.

“It’s so tough to have been in the position Dartmouth is in right now, where they played their hearts out in a lot of ways and deserved to win,” Amaker said after the game. “I think it’s very obvious how well they played until the last minute or two minutes.”

In the home locker room, there would be time later to make adjustments; for the moment, there was only the sweet thrill of escape.

“I haven’t been a part of anything like that since the Brown game a couple years ago,” Webster said after the game, referring to the Crimson’s 24-point comeback against the Bears in 2011. “It was ridiculous. I’m at a loss for words right now.”

—Staff writer Andrew R. Mooney can be reached at mooney@college.harvard.edu. Follow him on Twitter @mooneyar.

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