On Harvard’s most important weekend of basketball to date, it was a freshman that rose to the occasion.
Freshman point guard Siyani Chambers has guided the Crimson offense all season, but his clutch plays down the stretch against Columbia and efficient three-point shooting against Cornell helped earn Harvard (19-9, 11-3 Ivy) its third straight Ivy League Championship and second outright title.
Chambers went five-of-six from the field for 16 points in the Crimson’s 56-51 win over the Lions (12-14, 4-9). After a Princeton loss to Yale on Friday gave Harvard a chance to clinch at least a share of the Ivy title, Saturday’s match-up against the Big Red (13-18, 5-9) became that much more important. Chambers stepped up in the spotlight, hitting three-of-four from downtown on his way to a 16-point, five-assist night in a 65-56 victory over Cornell.
With Princeton’s loss to Brown later that evening, the Crimson earned its second straight bid to the NCAA tournament.
After trailing for most of the night against a Columbia team that beat Harvard by 18 on its home court, Chambers put the Crimson up for good with 40 seconds to go off of an acrobatic and-one lay-up. Taking the rebound from sophomore forward Steve Moundou-Missi, Chambers pushed the ball up the court one-on-four before hitting the tying lay-up and go-ahead free throw.
“[Harvard coach Tommy Amaker] had told us that if we got a rebound off of a miss he wanted us to come down and try and get something early in transition,” Chambers said. “Steve grabbed the rebound and got it to me, and then I saw a little crease and took it.”
The Crimson trailed 28-20 going into halftime, but an eight-nothing run capped off by a Chambers steal and ensuing lay-up tied the game at 30-all. The Lions maintained a slight advantage over Harvard until the final minute of the game.
The Crimson struggled from beyond the arc against Columbia, only going three-for-11. However, Harvard made up for it by hitting 15 free throws on the night, with Chambers leading the way going six-for-seven from the charity stripe.
“[Siyani] is a great playmaker, and he gets us open shots,” coach Tommy Amaker said. “And if we have open shots, we should probably be making them.”
While the Crimson may have struggled with the deep ball on Friday, it was the key to Harvard’s victory on Saturday against the Big Red. The team shot nine-of-15 on the night for an outstanding 60 percent from beyond the arc. Junior co-captain Laurent Rivard hit four from deep on the night, with three coming in the first half. Chambers, not to be outdone, hit all three of his shots from beyond the arc in the second half.
The Crimson ended the first period on a nine-to-one run, with a nifty lefty layup from Chambers as time expired to make it 32-24.
The home squad was able to maintain a double-digit lead throughout most of the second half, finding a large portion of its success from downtown. Co-captain Christian Webster, Rivard, and Chambers all hit from deep to help the Crimson keep its advantage.
After a Cornell layup dwindled the lead down to 57-50 with 4:30 to go, it became a game of free throws. Harvard scored its final eight points on free throws from sophomore wing Wesley Saunders, Rivard, and Chambers.
“I’m proud of our guys,” Amaker said. “We are an incredibly young team and to talk about Siyani in his first year in our program and all the other freshman to be a part of this. We hope this can be big part of moving forward.”
Just a year removed from playing high school ball for Hopkins Sr. High, Chambers has adjusted quickly to the college game after being thrust into the starting lineup. Chambers leads the Ivy League in assists, averaging 5.7 per game, a mark also good enough for first place nationally among college freshmen. The point guard is sixth in the conference in scoring with 12.9 per game and was a nominee for the Bob Cousy award that goes to the best point guard in the country.
While most television personalities like to refer to true freshman as inexperienced during the NCAA tournament, Chambers, according to both his statistics and Amaker, does not fall into that category.
Chambers has started all 28 games for the Crimson this season—one that included a very strong non-conference schedule and the always-competitive Ivy League. Not only has Chambers started every contest, but he averages 37.8 minutes a game, placing him first in the Ivy League and fourth in the nation.
“Certainly Siyani’s shots seemed to be incredibly timely,” Amaker said. “At the end of the half and the threes, he’s been just timely for us an awful lot this year.”