A deep three-point jumper from Bryce Aiken with 1.9 seconds left to play lifted the Harvard men’s basketball team to a wild 70-67 overtime victory over Massachusetts on Sunday afternoon at Lavietes Pavilion.
It was a day of career highs and redemption for the sophomore guard as Aiken made up for a missed layup that would have given the Crimson (2-0) the win in regulation. All told, the Randolph, N.J., native finished the matinee with career highs in both points (30) and rebounds (eight).
“It was a great shot,” Aiken said. “We were in the huddle talking about it. We didn’t want them to get the three, but they did. I said if there was still time on the clock, ‘Just give me the ball I got it, I’ll win it for us.’”
The bout was another chapter in the storied rivalry between two of the Bay State’s basketball heavyweights. UMass (1-1) took last year’s matchup by four and had won the last three matchups in the series. Sunday’s matchup bore several similarities to the 2014 edition, as an and-one from Wesley Saunders ’15 in the game’s final minute lifted Harvard to a 75-73 win over the Minutemen.
“Every time we have been able to lock horns with UMass—all our games we’ve played in this series—have been hard fought games, they’ve been possession games, they’ve been exciting games, and I think this tops all of that in terms of the ending,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said.
While Aiken stole the show for the Crimson, sophomore guard Luwane Pipkins was the marksman for the guests on Sunday. With his team trailing by three with 12.6 seconds to play in regulation, the Chicago native took the ball the length of the floor, pulled up, and drilled a triple—only the second of the day for his team—in Harvard freshman guard Mario Haskett’s face.
Faced with an almost identical situation with 17.5 seconds left in the extra session, Pipkins struck for a second time. This time around, UMass guard C.J. Anderson, who had the hot hand after scoring his team’s first four points in overtime, brought the ball up the floor but eventually found Pipkins, who was being guarded by sophomore wing Justin Bassey, the Crimson’s top perimeter defender. The new matchup made no difference for the 5’11” floor general, as Pipkins found the bottom of the net despite the 6’5” Bassey’s best efforts.
“It was a fun game to play,” Aiken said. “It was the teams going back and forth, we would get a bucket, they would get a bucket. It really just came down to stops. Luckily enough, we got a few stops here and there and we just tried to grind and fight.”
Rather than taking his last timeout, Amaker let his team push the ball as the final eight seconds began to tick off the clock. Much like how Pipkins had during regulation, Aiken raced against time with a full head of steam. Milliseconds after passing the crimson H at center court, the sophomore guard elevated. And hit. A last-second heave by the Minutemen barely clipped the left side of the backboard.
“Depending on what the amount of time left on the clock is, we prefer to play through it on a broken floor,” Amaker said. “Sometimes you can stop it, and call a timeout, and allow them to get set and organized, and do something different. [Aiken] had the first one, and it rolled out, and then obviously he drained the second one and carried us. Having it in his hands with a little bit of time is certainly to our advantage.”
The dramatic ending seemed to be a foregone conclusion given the back-and-forth nature of the game’s final stretch. Neither team held more than a one-possession lead for the final 14:21 of regulation. A Chris Baldwin layup with 10:23 to play gave the Minutemen their first advantage since the 4:28 mark of the first half and sent the UMass faithful, which took up nearly two full sections of Lavietes Pavilion, into a frenzy.
With the result still in question with just over a minute and a half to play, Aiken and Pipkins took over for their respective teams. The undersized, hard-nosed guards, each from one of the nation’s top recruiting hotbeds—Aiken from North Jersey and Pipkins from the South Side of Chicago—were putting on a show for the divided arena.
The Crimson’s lead guard missed a jumper that would have pushed his team’s lead to three with 1:34 to play. Twenty-two seconds later, Pipkins drove to the cup, guided in a layup with his right hand and sunk the ensuing free throw. After the make, Aiken almost immediately found junior sharpshooter Corey Johnson for a triple directly in front of the home bench. The Harvard lead stood at one 20 seconds later as Aiken and Pipkins exchanged layups on opposite ends. A pair of free throws by the Crimson guard stretched the lead to three and set the stage for Pipkin’s first round of magic.
“It’s not easy when a team makes a dagger kind of shot and you miss something when you felt like you had the game, you felt like you were in a position to win and now it has to go into overtime,” Amaker said.