It's funny--now that the Harvard men's basketball team has finally beaten Penn, it doesn't seem like it was ever such a big deal.
The Quakers were just another basketball team, with one pretty good player (Michael Jordan), a good shooting guard (Garret Kreitz) and a bus load of 6'6" forward-ish types.
Not anything that special.
Sure, Penn sure was something in its day, with Jerome Allen and Matt Maloney leading the Quakers to two straight undefeated Ivy seasons and a few Top 25 rankings. But Allen is now with the Denver Nuggets and Maloney the Houston Rockets, and neither did a heck of a lot for Penn on Saturday night.
Ah, Saturday night. Not only has it been the most important win in Harvard coach Frank Sullivan's six-year tenure, it was one heck of a game, especially in the context of Friday night's loss to Princeton (who clinched the Ivy League title Saturday with a 60-53 win over Dartmouth).
In the Harvard-Princeton game, the Tigers led by 15 points with under six minutes left in the game, at which time the Crimson began a powerful but extremely tardy comeback. The final deficit, 66-61, was about as close as Harvard ever got.
On Saturday, Harvard again fell behind in the second half. This time, however, the Crimson seemed to learn its lesson and started its comeback sooner, finally tying the game on a last-second, fade-away, seemingly desperation 16-footer by sophomore Tim Hill. Lavietes Pavilion was rockin' and rollin', and Harvard pulled away to a double-digit lead in overtime.
After Hill's shot, the scoreboard initially said that it was a three-pointer, which would have given Harvard the win, but to the crowd's disappointment the referees ruled that it was inside the line.
In fact, that turned out to be better for Harvard, for when the Crimson put the game away with under a minute left of overtime, it gave Sullivan a chance to take out his seniors one-by-one in their last home game, hearing the roar of the home crowd for the last time.
Penn? The Quakers didn't seem to really be there anymore. Sure, there were some people in blue jerseys on the court who didn't seem to be as happy as everyone else, but they weren't anything special--it was as if Harvard had been playing a Colgate or a B.U. The Penn fans who came up for the game were hushed throughout overtime, the Penn band was uninspiring and none of the Quaker players could do anything to stop the demolition.
Three years ago, a Harvard team that would finish 9-17 came within one point of beating the then-mighty Quakers when a last-second shot by Tarik Campbell '94 was blocked. Saturday night, as Hill dribbled the ball up the court with Harvard down by two and the clock running out, one could have made comparisons between him and Campbell, but it wouldn't have been right.
In 1994, the Crimson almost won a game when it had no right to; Saturday, Harvard had every right to win. As Campbell dribbled, the mood among the crowd was disbelief; as Hill dribbled, hope.