Let me start off by saying that flights from Boston to Albuquerque are not cheap, which forced me (and the Crimson Sports board, with which I tagged along) to travel to Denver, where we rented an SUV to make the picturesque drive to Albuquerque, N.M. Thank you, NCAA committee, for that one, really.
Despite the remote location, I made the trip because I figured that, as a senior, it would be my last—and first—chance to go to the NCAA tournament as a student and root for my school.
Before earning its tournament berth this year, Harvard (26-5, 12-2 Ivy) had not made it to the Big Dance since 1946, when the NCAA tournament invited only eight teams. Not only was this moment historic, but it was also a testament to how far the basketball program has come under Crimson coach Tommy Amaker.
By now we all know what happened against Vanderbilt (25-11, 10-6 SEC), and how Harvard got ousted from the tournament. With Wisconsin knocking the Commodores out in the next round, the matchup between Vanderbilt and the Crimson didn’t turn out to mean much in the grand scheme of things.
Despite the loss, it was a big step in the team’s development, but I’m going to be honest: this would be a much angrier column had it not been for the final half of the second period. With Harvard down by 10 at the break, I kept telling my friends and myself that our team could still make a comeback; that it wasn’t over. But the second half started badly and after a couple of years of strong performances in the NCAA tournament from the Ancient Eight, this was pretty disappointing. Then sophomore Laurent Rivard caught fire.
The Canadian had the hot hand in the second half to keep Harvard alive, finishing the game six of seven from beyond the arc. He made me believe that it was still possible to overcome what had once been an 18-point deficit. And the Crimson came close to accomplishing the feat; it was a two-possession game late, before a few unfortunate bounces put the game out of reach.
We put up a fight—one that had my heart beating intensely as the clock wound down—but I just wish that the team had played at that level all game. This was most certainly a matchup we could have won with fewer silly turnovers and sloppy play.
But it’s easy to criticize in hindsight, and that’s not my intention. I’m just recounting the mixed emotions I felt while watching the game in person, and despite all the “what ifs,” I felt proud to be sporting my Harvard apparel at the end of it all.
What also made me proud was being in the class 2012 with the seniors on the team. You guys impacted the program in a big way and accomplished things that 66 years worth of players tried to do. Congratulations on your success, and thank you for everything.
Despite the loss, the experience validated breaking the bank for the trip. UNM’s “The Pit” hosted fans from all over the country, creating an exciting environment that never quieted down, no matter who was on the court. It was like a home game for all teams involved. There were also a lot of Albuquerque residents, many crowding around the flat screens stationed around the arena to follow what was going on with their beloved Lobos. When UNM finally edged out Long Beach State during the Harvard game, the crowd erupted into huge cheers for the hometown team. I genuinely celebrated for Los Lobos—Albuquerque had been really kind to us, so it felt right.
After the game, I went with my friend’s family to the Harvard reception at a nearby hotel, where Amaker and his team arrived to a standing ovation from the room full of alumni. Athletic Director Bob Scalise honored Amaker in the center of the room, and Amaker did the same for the seniors on the team and proceeded to thank the band and cheerleaders for their efforts. Donald B. Swegan—a member of that 1946 team—was given witty customized T-shirts as gifts, and former players from the 1950’s received some as well. It was an emotional ceremony and very well deserved.
That gathering marked the end of Harvard’s run in the NCAA tournament. Bittersweet, yes, but a big step forward for a much maligned program. As Amaker implied during the small ceremony, we’ll hopefully be dancing again next year, and if the NCAA is a little kinder to Harvard and places it somewhere near home, I’ll definitely be there jumping up and down too. After this experience, I would encourage everyone to do the same.
—Staff writer Brian A. Campos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org