If there’s one thing that stood out about the John J. Lee Amphitheater at Yale’s Payne Whitney Gymnasium Saturday night, it was probably the noise.
With 12:09 to play in the second half, Javier Duren knocked down a transition three-pointer to give the Bulldogs a three-point advantage, 49-46—his team’s largest lead since 6-3. He let out a scream, but it was drowned out by the roar of the Yale crowd. The voices only increased in volume after freshman point guard Siyani Chambers’ layup attempt was denied on the other end.
At some point in the next minute or so—after co-captain Laurent Rivard finished two free throws on a technical—there was a shot clock violation. Not your standard, last-second-shot-you-weren’t-able-to-get-off violation. Rather, the buzzer went off as co-captain Christian Webster received a pass from the opposite side of the backcourt; the rest seemed to be lost in the racket.
The Harvard men’s basketball team was eventually able to pull out the victory, 72-66, thanks in large part to a 17-point performance from sophomore forward Steve Moundou-Missi and double-digit scoring efforts from all four of the Crimson’s starting guards. But it didn’t come easily.
Both the game and the atmosphere seemed fitting for the oldest college sports rivalry in the nation—more so than the 30-point drubbing that transpired the last time Harvard ventured to New Haven. Perhaps more so, even, than the two teams’ contest at Lavietes Pavilion three weeks ago Friday, in which the Crimson nearly blew a sizable lead before coming away with a much-needed 67-64 win.
Before this Saturday’s game ended with a Moundou-Missi behind-the-back dribble as the clock ran out, prompting Duren to swiftly untuck his shirt in what looked like frustration, there was a minute or so of mayhem.
With 1:13 remaining and his team up four, Chambers drove in for a layup and was fouled by Duren in the paint—hard.
With the game momentarily on hold as the officials reviewed the play, various chants dissolved into a nervous murmur. And after what seemed like a long time, Chambers hit one of the two resulting free throws, pushing his team’s advantage back up to five.
Up 69-66 just 14 seconds later, Chambers worked the ball up the hardwood under full-court pressure and dished to Moundou-Missi under the basket with a threaded bounce pass. The sophomore was fouled on his layup attempt and converted on both free throws.
On Yale’s ensuing possession, Duren found himself all alone beyond the arc, but his shot bounced on the far side of the rim, rattled around, and fell out. Duren’s hands automatically found their way to his hips as each pair in the student section moved to a corresponding forehead.
On the inbound, Chambers pushed off of Duren, who fell to the ground, to receive the ball and was able to get it on the far side of the court, all alone. After killing a few of the game’s final 10 seconds off the clock, Duren bumped Chambers out of bounds. It’s a technical. Two Yale players physically blocked their coaching staff from storming further onto the court to confront the referees. And then, just like that, after one more Chambers make at the line, the game was over.
It’s hard to put a finger on the aspect of the contest that gave it a little something extra. Was it the opportunity to know off the Ivy League’s top dog with which the Bulldogs were endowed? Of the two teams with fewer than four losses heading into Saturday night’s contest, it was ‘one down, one to go’ for Yale after the Bulldogs dropped Princeton on Feb. 9.
Maybe it’s the age-old rivalry itself. As evidenced by the arrangement of the Ancient Eight banners in the rafters—they’re organized by the schools’ respective founding dates, rather than alphabetically—tradition puts Harvard and Yale in close contact with one another. It might even be the do-or-die in-conference situation for Yale’s team. After this weekend, a Princeton and/or Harvard league championship seems all but guaranteed.
Maybe it was sophomore Wesley Saunders’ Sportscenter-worthy slam in the 11th minute—one of three Harvard dunks on the night.
Whatever the ‘it’ factor may have been, those who tuned in, either in person or via CBS Sports, caught their fair share of excitement. The Game between Harvard and Yale football gets all the hype, but for one night in New Haven, men’s basketball reigned supreme.
—Staff writer Catherine E. Coppinger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @catcopp.