PROVIDENCE, R.I.—The intensity of Saturday night’s matchup between the Harvard and Brown men’s basketball teams belied the fact that there was not much tangible at stake, outside of seeding for the Crimson in the NCAA Tournament. But in a hotly contested shootout, Harvard (26-4, 13-1 Ivy) prevailed over the Bears (15-13, 7-7) in overtime, 98-93, at the Pizzitola Sports Center.
With the win, the Crimson finished conference play with a program-best 13 victories and matched the school record for total wins in a season with 26.
“It’s awesome—we’ve been talking about it all week,” co-captain Laurent Rivard said. “We knew we had to get one win to get to the tournament, but we wanted to go 2-0. No one from Harvard had ever gone 13-1 [in league play] and 7-0 on the road.”
Brown trailed virtually the entire contest until the final moments of regulation, when it looked most poised to pull off the upset. A free throw from guard Tavon Blackmon gave the Bears a 85-84 lead with 1:17 to play, but with the packed Brown student section on its feet, a wing three-pointer from Crimson sophomore point guard Siyani Chambers put Harvard back on top 10 seconds later. On the ensuing possession, a jumper in the lane from Brown freshman forward Leland King sent the game to the extra session.
Harvard held on to a slim two-point lead with less than a minute left in overtime, and, coming out of a timeout, Amaker called a play for Rivard, who was competing in his last game on an Ivy court. Rivard peeled off a screen and got a clean look at the top of the key, burying a three to give his team a 94-89 lead, effectively deciding the game.
With the shot, Rivard moved into second place in the all-time Ivy standings for three-pointers made.
“We’ve had this play set up for a while,” Rivard said. “Coach sent me back in, and we knew we had to take a good shot. [Junior forward Steve Moundou-Missi] set a really good screen. I just came back to the ball, got a great pass, and got myself open.”
The Bears honored senior guard Sean McGonagill in a pregame ceremony before his last conference game, and he did all he could to go out with a win. McGonagill hit his fifth three of the night over the outstretched arm of junior wing Wesley Saunders to bring Brown back within two with 16 seconds left in overtime, but a layup by Chambers and a Bears turnover iced it for good for the Crimson. With his 26 points, McGonagill moved into second on Brown’s all-time scoring list.
“McGonagill has always been a tough kid for us to handle and guard,” Amaker said. “He’s just so crafty with the ball, and certainly the shots that he can make are uncanny.”
Bears forward King, who averages 8.6 points per game, had a career-high 27 points and seven rebounds. King’s 23 shots from the field were nearly three times his season average.
In the first half, the teams’ 94 total points nearly equaled their total scoring output in their previous meeting, a 52-45 victory for the Crimson. Brown’s 93 points were the most allowed by Harvard all season, though the home squad shot just 43.1 percent for the game. The Bears made up for it with sharp shooting from beyond the arc, hitting 12 of their 23 three-point attempts.
“We had been playing exceptionally well, especially defensively,” Amaker said. “That wasn’t the case for us completely tonight, but that’s not giving Brown the credit that they deserve for how they played.”
As in the teams’ first meeting, the battles down low were rugged. Brown was without starting center Rafael Maia, but its front line of King and Cedric Kuakumensah totaled eight blocks. Still, Harvard managed 54 points in the paint, 37 of which came from Moundou-Missi and senior forward Kyle Casey, both of whom recorded double-doubles on the night. Saunders chipped in a quiet 19 points, 11 of which came from the free-throw line.
The Crimson will now rest up before waiting to hear its tournament destination next Sunday. Harvard will likely enter the Big Dance as an 11- or 12-seed, looking to build on last season’s March success.
“I’ve always felt it’s not what you do going into the tournament, it’s what you do within the tournament,” Amaker said. “We’ve seen a lot of so-called hot teams get into a tournament and not fare well in the very first round. You need to get momentum within the tournament. The main thing is we’ve been playing well.”
—Staff writer Andrew Mooney can be reached at email@example.com.