NEW HAVEN, Conn.—With 2:34 left in a potentially title-deciding game and Yale cutting into its lead, Harvard turned to a familiar face to regain momentum.
After a series of crosscourt passes, junior wing Wesley Saunders sent a bullet to co-captain Laurent Rivard in the left corner. Rivard caught, shot, and extended his team’s advantage to double digits once more.
And with that bucket, the Harvard men’s basketball team marched into madness.
Two minutes later, it was official. The Crimson (25-4, 12-1 Ivy) had clinched its third straight berth in the NCAA Tournament with a 70-58 win over Yale (15-12, 9-4) on Friday night at the Payne Whitney Gymnasium. With the victory, Harvard also nabbed its third consecutive outright Ivy League title.
While the visiting squad was in control for a majority of the matchup, a late run from the Bulldogs necessitated the late game heroics from Rivard.
Following an up-and-under layup from Saunders, Eli sophomore forward Justin Sears forced the ball into the lane, drew contact, and sunk a baby jumper. With his and-one free throw, Sears cut Harvard’s advantage to 11, 57-46, and instigated Yale’s comeback attempt.
On the next possession, Sears grabbed a defensive board and pushed the ball up the court. The forward passed the rock off to a teammate, and got it back, slicing into the paint. Sears elevated, and slammed the ball home over Rivard, cutting his squad’s deficit to single digits for the first time since the opening half.
Yale began to pressure on defense as well, trapping Harvard in the backcourt in a 1-2-2 press.
However, with 3:28 to go, a Crimson dagger deflated Yale’s newfound energy.
Sophomore point guard Siyani Chambers brought the ball up the court, and sent the rock to senior forward Kyle Casey at the free-throw line. Casey looked around, and then returned the ball to Chambers, who was waiting with open hands at the top of the key. The point guard drilled the three, pushing Harvard’s lead to 11.
Sears responded with a pair of free throws, but it was too little too late as 68 seconds later, Rivard’s shot from deep all-but clinched the Crimson’s win, championship, and tournament bid.
“It’s obvious how thrilled and proud we are of that effort by our kids,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “We prepared, we knew how challenging it would be going against [Yale] and especially here.… I think we’ve shown that we have been the best team in our league…. We are pleased for our program, thrilled for our school, and happy for our kids for a job well done.”
It took Harvard only one possession to gain control at the onset of the game.
After Yale corralled the opening tip, an errant pass from Bulldog sophomore Nick Victor led to a layup for junior forward Steve Moundou-Missi. On the team’s next possession, Chambers threaded a pass through two defenders to Casey, who slammed the ball home.