Although the threes bookended the run, the substance of it came from the Crimson’s single post presence. Junior forward Steve Moundou-Missi lived above the rim in the second half, with two dunks and a tip-in during one three-minute stretch that cut the deficit from 10 to two.
More importantly, after Payne and Dawson had dunks a minute apart early in the half, Moundou-Missi closed off the rim. From the 17-minute mark of the second half onward, a Spartan team that had 24 points in the paint in the opening period had just two layups the rest of the game.
“After the first half, we felt like we didn’t play great, and the second half was all about our effort and fight,” Moundou-Missi said. “We weren’t going to go out like that.”
But after David threw a punch, Goliath responded with a haymaker.
Harvard didn’t have the lead for more than 19 seconds before Spartan junior Travis Trice drained a three to give his team the lead. After a pair of Payne free throws, Izzo’s squad pushed the ball on a Saunders miss and found an open Harris on the wing. His three pushed the lead to eight and Harvard never got closer than four the rest of the way.
“We want[ed] to really challenge them,” Curry said. “And they responded like great teams do.”
For the Crimson’s seniors, there was little solace in “almost.” For Dee Giger and Tom Hamel—onlookers the entire Tournament—there was little to be done; for Curry and Rivard, each of whom missed a free throw in the game’s final five minutes, there was little to be forgotten.
“We never wanted to give up,” Rivard said.
The class exited with as much acclaim as any in Crimson history. Rivard, who matched his single-season record for three-pointers in the loss, has made more triples than anyone in the Harvard record books. Casey and Curry returned from a yearlong absence to lead the Crimson to a program-record 27 wins, exchanging individual numbers for W’s.
When push came to shove against a prohibitive national title favorite, the seniors provided the resolve that characterized their careers. Curry and Rivard—who combined for 19 points, 14 in the second half—had five of the team’s six threes without a single turnover.
When Curry, Giger and Casey arrived at Harvard, the team ended its first season in the CTI. Four years and 98 wins later, it was five minutes from the Sweet Sixteen.
“It’s no surprise to see us come this far,” Curry said. “What Coach Amaker has created here, it’s just a wonderful thing.”
—Staff writer David Freed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.