Since the inception of Ivy League basketball in the 1955-1956 season, 54 Harvard men’s basketball teams had attempted to win a conference title. Every single one of them failed.
During those 54 years, Penn won the league 23 times. Princeton was victorious in 22 seasons. Cornell won the title on four occasions, Yale and Dartmouth were triumphant three times, and Columbia and Brown took one title each. Only the Crimson had never been an Ancient Eight champion in men’s basketball.
But in 2010-11, team number 55 claimed its spot in the record books.
It was a season to remember for Harvard, which won a program-best 23 games and set school records for conference victories with 12 and home wins with 14—in 14 contests.
And on March 5, the squad topped Princeton, 79-67, at Lavietes Pavilion to earn its first-ever share of the Ivy Crown. After losing the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament on a heartbreaking buzzer-beater against the Tigers a week later, the Crimson earned its first-ever invite to the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) and became the first Ivy League school to be offered a spot in the NIT since 2003.
“We accomplished part of our goal, which was to win the Ivy League title,” said junior co-captain and forward Keith Wright. “To be able to make history happen is part of the reason why we chose to come here, all of us, and as a whole I think [the season] went really well.”
Along the way, Harvard beat major-conference foes Colorado by 16 points and Boston College by nine. It was the third straight year the Crimson toppled the Eagles in Chestnut Hill, as Harvard emerged as the best college basketball team in the Boston area.
“I think a lot of things clicked for us early,” said junior co-captain and guard Oliver McNally. “Our team got along great on and off the court. The camaraderie on the team really helped us throughout [the season], and everybody stepped up and made a lot of plays.”
Other than a one-point defeat at Yale, every other loss the Crimson suffered during the regular season was to a future NCAA Tournament team, including eventual national champion UConn.
The year ended with Harvard’s first-ever appearance on ESPN, a game in which the Crimson fell, 71-54, at Oklahoma State in the NIT’s first round.
Nonetheless, the squad’s 12-2 conference record marked an impressive turnaround for a program that had been 3-11 in Ivy play just three years prior.
That season had been the first at the helm for Harvard coach Tommy Amaker, who came to Harvard planning to make history and did so faster than anyone expected. Coaching for the first time this year with a roster composed solely of his recruits, Amaker turned a program with a history of futility into a squad that was one of the top 35 in the country in terms of RPI by the year’s end.
Five players averaged double figures in points for the Crimson, which led the Ancient Eight in scoring offense, scoring margin, field-goal percentage, free-throw percentage, and three-point percentage.
The squad was led by Wright, who won the Ivy League Player of the Year award after pacing Harvard with 14.8 points and 8.3 rebounds per game.
Wright’s frontcourt mate, sophomore forward Kyle Casey, came back from an early-season injury to earn second-team All-Ivy status after averaging 10.7 points and 6.0 rebounds. He was joined on the second team by classmate Brandyn Curry, who scored 9.3 points per contest and led the Ancient Eight in assists per game with 5.9.
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