On the final Friday of conference play in the 2013-2014 season, then-junior Wesley Saunders found sharpshooter Laurent Rivard behind the arc in the left corner. Rivard didn’t hesitate before letting the shot fly over his Yale defender, giving his team a double-digit advantage and effectively sealing its bid to the NCAA Tournament.
On the final Friday of this year’s campaign, the hundreds of students donned in Crimson gear held their collective breath as their men’s basketball team tried to cross the t's and dot the i’s of a comeback against the Bulldogs with a similar series of shots from the three-point line.
But unlike one year ago, there was no catch-and-shoot from the left corner, no Rivard triple, and no Harvard celebration. This time, each attempted three ricocheted off the rim, placing the ball, physically and proverbially, in the hands of Yale (22-8, 11-2 Ivy). Fittingly, it was a missed trey that ended the game for the Crimson (20-7, 10-3), with the Elis finally on the redemptive side of rivalry weekend, marching out of Lavietes Pavilion with the 62-52 win on Friday evening.
“[It was a] tough night for us shooting the basketball,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “I thought we had a ton of shots [and] we just didn’t make them. I don’t know what else to say.”
While the Crimson misfired on all eight of its three-point attempts in the first half, it was the wide-open missed triples down the stretch that closed the door on any chance of a comeback that Harvard had.
After falling behind by 10, 33-23, in the opening minutes of the second period, the Crimson took advantage of a Bulldog cold shooting spell to go on a tear. Thanks to a triple from junior co-captain Siyani Chambers, a short corner jumper from senior forward Jonah Travis, and an and-one from co-captain Steve Moundou-Missi, Harvard climbed back within four points, 35-31, with just over 10 minutes to play.
With the crowd the loudest it had been all night and the signal from Amaker to press, the Harvard defense forced Yale freshman Makai Mason into an errant reverse-layup, sending the Crimson running in transition. Only moments later, Saunders caught a cross-court pass from Chambers, squared up, and let the ball go. The shot that would’ve brought the Crimson within one point for the first time since the opening half clanged off the rim, resulting in a buried Bulldog three on Yale’s ensuing possession.
With 4:48 to play, an almost identical sequence played out. Down four and in possession of the ball, Chambers swung the rock to the left wing where sophomore sharpshooter Corbin Miller lay waiting. But as was the case all night, Miller misfired. Just one minute later, Miller missed once more.
Harvard’s 11.8 percent from deep was the worst three-point shooting performance the team has seen since 2013, while Friday's contest was the only time all season that Miller didn’t connect on a single field goal, ending the night 0-of-9 from the field—eight of which came from beyond the arc.
“It was an off night,” Saunders said. “We just let our emotions get too high.”
So while Rivard’s three in 2014 punched Harvard’s ticket to March Madness, it was Yale, this season, that celebrated after the final triple of the night, clinching a share of the Ivy title in front of a silenced, sold-out Lavietes crowd.
Typically described by teammates as “poised,” the ever-composed Steve Moundou-Missi was furious as he walked towards his squad’s huddle with 16:50 to play on Friday night. He yelled something towards the bench, slapping a towel against the hardwood in a rare display of emotion. The Crimson was down 10, and the fate of his last few days of collegiate basketball was hanging in the balance.
And after the timeout ended and he took the court once more, Moundou-Missi seemed to further push aside that ever-calm demeanor, doing the dirty work—whatever it took—on both ends of the floor to give his team a fighting chance at a comeback.
Less than a minute after the timeout, a Miller missed shot led to an Eli fast break. Moundou-Missi ran the floor alongside Yale’s guards, swatting away senior Armani Cotton’s layup attempt before pivoting and sprinting down the court the other way; and fittingly, when Saunders found Moundou-Missi 17 feet from the basket in the right corner on the next possession, the forward showed no hesitation putting up the jump shot—burying it and beginning the Harvard’s run.