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Controversial Charge Call Gives Penn 55-54 Upset of Men's Basketball

Harvard loses first game at Lavietes Pavilion in two years, opening up Ivy League race

By Scott A. Sherman, Crimson Staff Writer

With 5.7 seconds remaining, junior forward Kyle Casey took an inbounds pass under the basket, and Tyler Bernardini slid over to defend. Casey went up, banked in a layup, and Lavietes Pavilion exploded, thinking the Crimson had just retaken a one-point lead over Penn in a vitally important Ancient Eight contest.

But lost in the ensuing raucous was the sound of a whistle. The ref signaled a charge, Casey’s basket was waived off, and the Quakers gained possession.

Out of a timeout, Penn inbounded the ball to half court, where Bernardini got rid it before the Crimson could foul, and just like that, the game was over.

The Quakers had pulled off the upset with its season on the line, while for the third time in two years, Harvard had suffered a heartbreaking, late-season, one-point conference loss in the final seconds.

With a win on its home court—where it had not lost in 28 consecutive games—the Crimson (24-4, 10-2 Ivy) would have clinched at least a share of its second consecutive Ivy title.

Instead, the Quakers’ 55-54 victory denied that possibility, evening Penn (17-11, 9-2) with the Crimson in the loss column of the conference standings, stunning the home crowd, and setting up the possibility of another one-game playoff in the Ivy League.

With a victory on Saturday, Harvard would have been able to win its first-ever outright championship by beating either Cornell or Columbia next weekend. Now, even if it sweeps its New York road trip, the Quakers can set up a playoff by winning its final three games against Brown, Yale, and Princeton.

“It’s a devastating loss, it’s a disappointing loss, and we should feel those [emotions],” Crimson coach Tommy Amaker said. “The good thing is if we can channel it in the right way, maybe it can help us, and that’s what we’re hoping for next week.”

The Quakers finished the contest on a 15-5 run, wiping away a nine-point Crimson lead with eight minutes to go.

With the Senior Night game on the line, it was Penn’s senior, Zack Rosen, who played like he wanted it the most down the stretch. The point guard—the Ancient Eight’s leading scorer—had the final nine Quaker points, including two free-throws to give Penn a one-point lead with 23 seconds left on the clock.

On Harvard’s ensuing possession, the Crimson found Corbin Miller open for three, but the freshman’s shot rimmed out. Harvard grabbed the offensive rebound, and Amaker called timeout.

The coach orchestrated a play for Casey, and the junior attacked the basket. But Bernardini got over in time and drew the charge—much to the dismay of the home crowd—and Harvard would not get another chance.

“From where I was, it didn’t look like a charge, but the ref made the call,” junior point guard Brandyn Curry said. “There’s nothing we can do with that; we’re not going to blame the loss on one call. There were multiple reasons why we were in that position.... [We had] a lot of missed opportunities.”

The Crimson led, 49-40, at the 8:10 mark, but Curry missed an open three from the right wing that would have pushed the advantage to double-digits.

Behind Rosen, Penn slowly began clawing back. Two free-throws by the senior and four points from Henry Brooks cut the deficit to five with 4:47 to go.

Freshman Wes Saunders responded with a back-door dunk off a pretty pass from Curry, but Rosen answered right back with a long three to make it 51-49.

Casey then went one-of-two from the line on the next Crimson possession, and Rosen hit a step-back jumper to make it a one-point game with 2:27 left.

Co-captain Oliver McNally missed a three next time down for Harvard, but Casey was fouled going for the rebound. His two free throws—shot as a vociferous group of Quaker fans chanted "choke!"—put the Crimson up, 54-51, with 1:48 to go. But Rosen came right back, spinning around Miller, double-clutching, and hitting another jumper to cut Harvard’s lead to one.

McNally then missed another three, and Miles Cartwright did the same for the Quakers. But Penn’s Fran Dougherty grabbed the offensive rebound and got it to Rosen, who drove and was fouled by Casey. His two ensuing free throws proved to be the final points of the contest.

“Give them credit, they never folded,” Amaker said. “Rosen is a special player.... I’m not sure what else we could do [to stop him]. He made some very difficult shots.”

The Crimson led by six at the half, and the advantage got as large as 11 early in the second. But from there, sophomore Laurent Rivard missed a three that would have gotten it to 14, and the Quakers went on a 12-2 run capped by a Rosen long ball. Harvard answered with a 7-0 spurt of its own, but the Quakers refused to let the Crimson pull away in the must-win game.

It was a tough final home contest for McNally and Wright, the latter of whom broke the Crimson career blocks record with 158, but could only watch the final moments from the bench as Amaker instead chose to go with the rookies Saunders and Miller.

“Coach had a lineup out there that he thought could win the game, and you’ve got to support that,” Wright said.

Rosen had 20 points on 6-of-14 shooting, while Casey led Harvard with 12. The Crimson committed 20 turnovers and shot just 32 percent in the second half.

The result was another devastating loss for a team that suffered one-point defeats late last season against Yale—on a Curry miss at the buzzer—and against Princeton in the Ivy League playoff on a Doug Davis buzzer-beater.

Tonight, it was Casey’s charge that once again put the Crimson’s quest to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1946 in jeopardy.

“It’s real tough,” Wright said. “But we’ve got to move on. We have two games we’ve got to win next week.”

Staff writer Scott A. Sherman can be reached at ssherman13@college.harvard.edu.

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