The first game of co-captain Laurent Rivard’s career was one to forget. The then-freshman starter hoisted 11 shots in a 66-53 loss to George Mason, making none. Starting because of his ability to space the floor, the three-point shooter missed all seven attempts from beyond the arc.
It didn’t take long for Rivard and his team to find their footing. In his sixth game as a rookie, Rivard scored 21 points in 20 minutes. That sparked a run of six double-digit efforts in seven contests as the Harvard men’s basketball team won 15 of 17 games after the George Mason loss. The season ended with a share of the Ivy League championship, Harvard’s first ever.
With each coming season, Harvard and Rivard continued taking steps forward. In his sophomore year, Harvard made it to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1946, and Rivard led the Crimson with 20 points in a first-round loss to Vanderbilt. A season later, the then-junior had 17 points as 14th-seeded Harvard advanced to the round of 32, winning its second-round game over New Mexico, 68-62.
“Coach [Tommy Amaker] talked about winning championships when he was recruiting us,” Rivard said. “We have always wanted more and weren’t satisfied with just a share…. Coach has done a great job of keeping us hungry.”
On Saturday night, Rivard and his squad made it four-for-four as the Crimson (24-4, 11-1 Ivy) became the first team since Penn in the mid-90’s to clinch at least a share of four straight league titles. The co-captain nabbed a game-high 21 points in his squad’s 80-47 victory over Columbia (18-11, 7-5). With his six threes on the night, Rivard moved into a tie for third in Ancient Eight history.
“If you could write a script, this is one you would write,” Amaker said. “It doesn’t always happen that way, but how wonderful and cool it is to see it and be a part of it, and [see] the growth and the journey we have been on culminate in a moment like this tonight.”
Harvard jumped on Columbia early and often. The Crimson scored the first eight points of the game, and a fast break layup by sophomore guard Siyani Chambers put the Crimson up, 22-4, with 10 minutes left in the first half. At that point in the contest, Columbia had twice as many turnovers as points. Lion junior Alex Rosenberg, who had 31 points on just seven shots the night before against Dartmouth, missed his first four shots from the field and finished the half with only four points.
However, behind inspired play from reserve Jeff Coby—who tallied 11 first-half points—Columbia cut the deficit to 10 early in the second period on a layup by sophomore point guard Maodo Lo.
Harvard had the response, rattling off a 29-12 run that ended with a Rivard four-point play. The co-captain had 13 points and a rare block in the spurt, rattling in four threes in an 11-minute span.
“It’s Laurent, it’s what he does,” junior wing Wesley Saunders said. “He’s one of, if not the best, shooters I’ve ever seen.”
On the defensive end, Harvard fixed many of the problems that had allowed Columbia to post 84 points—shooting 48 percent—in the teams’ last meeting. After Rosenberg burned Rivard for 34 points in mid-February, Amaker began the game with versatile senior forward Kyle Casey on the Columbia junior. Rosenberg finished the game just 1-of-7 from the floor with three turnovers.
As a team, Columbia shot only 25 percent from the field in the second half and 34 percent for the game. The Crimson turned 14 Lion turnovers into 21 points, holding its opponent under 50 points for the fourth time in five games.
“There was a passion and a hunger for our team to play our man-to-man defense,” Amaker said. “We helped extremely well and were active. We forced those turnovers, and take a lot of pride in creating offense from our defense.”
On its seniors’ last weekend at Lavietes Pavilion, Harvard outscored its counterparts by a combined 58 points. The Crimson finished the game shooting 60 percent from the field, 62 percent from the three-point line, and 90 percent from the line—its best shooting performance of the season. Paced by juniors Steve-Moundou Missi (16 points) and Saunders (10 points, seven rebounds, seven assists), Harvard missed just nine shots in the second half.
“I think the vision that Coach Amaker had for the program and what we saw in the program has really all come together,” Saunders said. “We are seeing all the hard work that we have put in and [accomplishments] we worked so hard for, and it’s a great feeling to finally be able to celebrate.”
—Staff writer David Freed can be reached at email@example.com.