Against New Mexico, Men's Basketball Finally Closes Down the Stretch
SALT LAKE CITY—The Harvard men’s basketball team had plenty of opportunities to let this one slip away.
And nobody would have blamed the Crimson if it had. After all, this wasn’t Dartmouth, Brown, or even Princeton that Harvard was sharing the court with. This was the University of New Mexico—the third-seeded, 10th-ranked Lobos.
So the Crimson wasn’t supposed to fight back when New Mexico opened the half on a 6-0 run to take its first lead of the game, nor when the Lobos went on a 6-0 run midway through the second half to grab a 49-47 lead with 7:53 to go.
But both times, the Crimson did.
And after a season of letting leads slip away, Harvard closed out the game when it mattered most, taking its NCAA opener, 68-62, in front of a national television audience Thursday night.
“What a sensational, gutsy effort by our team,” said Crimson coach Tommy Amaker moments after the victory, Harvard’s first postseason triumph in program history. “But I thought our toughness and courage carried us through with the belief that we had the opportunity in front of us.”
The Crimson first faced adversity late in the first half. After jumping out to a seven-point, 9-2 lead, the Lobos fought back to even the score at 16 with 6:19 remaining and at 18 with 5:13 to go.
The moment felt eerily similar to the Crimson’s last NCAA tournament appearance against Vanderbilt a year ago. With 5:28 remaining in the first half of that contest, 12th-seeded Harvard took a 20-17 advantage off a Christian Webster three-pointer.
That marked the last time that the Crimson led, as the Commodores answered with a crippling 16-3 run to close out the opening frame.
But this year was different.
After Lobos center Alex Kirk knotted the score at 18 with a layup, Harvard immediately answered on the other end. Rookie point guard Siyani Chambers drove to the basket and kicked it out to junior co-captain Laurent Rivard in the corner. Rivard drilled the triple and—after just 12 seconds—the Crimson was back in the lead.
Kirk responded with a bucket on the other end, but Harvard had another answer—this time courtesy of sophomore Wesley Saunders.
Saunders—who finished with a team high 18 points—finished at the basket for his third field goal of the frame.
Two Webster triples over the next 1:44 put the Crimson up by seven, and Harvard went into the break up by four, 31-27.
“We showed a lot of toughness tonight and persevering,” Webster said. “Whenever they made runs we fought back.”