PROVIDENCE, R.I.—With Harvard down two and just ticks remaining on the clock, both teams knew where the ball was heading: into the hands of senior wing Wesley Saunders, the Crimson’s go-to man who had truly done it all for the Harvard men’s basketball team through nearly 40 minutes of play on Friday night.
So it was no surprise when Saunders caught the ball on the left wing, putting his head down and forcing his way into the paint. He stopped on a dime at the right block, laying up the contested shot over the outstretched arms of his Brown defender.
But on a night when seemingly everything went Saunders’s way, so too did the ball with just a second to play. The rock ended up back in his hands, and, a moment later, was sliding through the net as the final horn sounded, sending the two teams to overtime.
In the extra period, the Crimson (14-5, 4-1 Ivy) never trailed, knocking down seven free throws in the final minutes to seal a 76-74 win over Brown (9-13, 0-5) at the Pizzitola Sports Center in what, on paper at least, was supposed to be an easy game.
“Another Ivy League battle,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “I thought both teams really fought and competed to win this basketball game. It was very, very difficult for us…. Obviously the difference for us was Wesley Saunders—the way he played inspired basketball to get the ball to the basket.”
Saunders’s 33-point night was a career best, and the Crimson needed every one of them to hold back an aggressive Bears team.
While Harvard maintained control in the first period—at one point going on a 12-2 run—the team was held scoreless for the first 5:53 after intermission, tallying seven turnovers and a pair of missed layups before scoring a single second-half point.
Brown took advantage. Going on a 9-0 run in that same span of time, the Bears erased their deficit and took a three-point lead, setting up a fight to the finish that featured seven lead changes before regulation was over, with no team able to take more than a four-point advantage until the extra period.
A Saunders three pointer with one second left on the shot clock that put his team up, 51-49, with 8:12 to play appeared to give the Crimson momentum, but six Brown free throws in the following minutes tied things up at 55 apiece with 3:22 remaining.
From there, it effectively became a two-man battle between Saunders and the Bears’ sophomore guard Tavon Blackmon. A spinning lay-in from Saunders on the subsequent possession was matched by a clock-beating lefty layup from Blackmon, keeping the score tied, 57-all.
And, after a series of free throws from both sides, it was Blackmon who was sent to the line with the score tied, and 8.8 seconds left, to try to win the game for his squad.
The sophomore made just one of two from the stripe, however, setting up Saunders’s game-tying put-back layup, silencing the Brown fans’ chant of “Harvard: solve this. Harvard: solve this.”
Blackmon would score eight of his team’s 10 points in overtime, but the collective effort from the Crimson’s lineup proved too much for the underdogs. A rebound bobbled out of the Bears’ hands with just two seconds remaining, leaving Blackmon screaming with disappointment as time expired.