BY SHAQUILLA HARRIGAN
Harvard men’s basketball reappear in March Madness.
One year ago, the Harvard men’s basketball team made history as the then No. 14 team claimed its first-ever NCAA win over the then No. 3 New Mexico Lobos in a close match 68-62. Despite being the best team in the Ivy League, few thought that a sports team from Harvard had the ability to be serious contenders in one of the most frenzied sporting events of the year.
But, as anyone who seriously follows collegiate basketball knows, March Madness is comprised of many tales depicting heartbreak and the overwhelming satisfaction of being a victorious underdog. After an amazing NCAA introduction, the basketball team went out to prove this season that they are not one-trick ponies. Led by senior captains Brandyn Curry and Laurent Rivard (who also happened to be a key player in last year’s NCAA tournament game), the Harvard men’s basketball team went into NCAA tournament play 26-4. The team made it into the big dance after defeating Brown in regular season play 98-93 OT.
On Thursday, March 20th, the team–seeded No. 12– travelled to Spokane, Washington to play No. 5 Cincinnati. Even though the Crimson were a lower seed, they were many pundits and analysts pick as an upset worthy choice and a potential bracket buster. The game started fairly bland, with some bad shots and sloppy play, but three minutes in when senior Kyle Casey threw a slam down on the Bearcats, the audience knew the Crimson meant business.
For the rest of the half, due to strong three point shooting from Curry, Rivard, and sophomore point guard Siyani Chambers, Harvard seemed to be in control. Just as the Crimson seemed to be pulling away, Cincinnati’s star senior Sean Kilpatrick knocked down back-to-back threes, bringing the Bearcats back in reach. They never quite got to the lead, however, and Harvard went into halftime with a 36-29 lead.
The beginning of second half was crucial for the Crimson, as they had to show the first was not just flukey shooting, but true talent. Despite numerous turnovers due to a pesky Bearcat press, the Crimson refused to relinquish the lead, putting together runs when necessary and holding off Kilpatrick and the shaky Cinci offense in spectacular manner.
The end of the game provided an entertaining, albeit stressful conclusion to a entertaining game. Up by only one point with two minutes left, Chambers brought the ball up the court and knocked down a clutch step-back jumper from around the free throw line, giving Harvard some room to work with. Then, down 56-53, Cincinnati got the ball into Kilpatrick’s hands with a chance to tie and bring the game closer, but the Crimson defense made a huge stand, forcing a turnover, and regaining possession. Chambers was fouled and made one of two free throws, before two makes from the charity stripe by Kilpatrick brought the game back within two. While Harvard was shaky from the line all game (shooting a meager 17-28), they made the easy ones when it mattered, and sealed the game, 61-57.
After a spectacular win over Cincinnati, the men’s basketball team advanced to the third round of NCAA play. This time, the Crimson would face off against the No. 4 seeded Michigan State on Sunday, March 23rd. Despite Harvard students being on spring break, Crimson spirit was strong all over the country. Whether fans cheered courtside in Spokane along with the cheer team and band, watched the game as called by Charles Barkley from their various vacation spots, or even enjoyed the game at John Harvard’s Brewery thanks to an event co-sponsored by the Harvard Department of Athletics and College Events Board, Crimson fans rejoiced in their team’s history making.
During the first half, Harvard was trailing with a score of 33 to 45. Harvard made its first appearance on the scoreboard after sophomore standout Siyani Chambers made both of his free throws after being fouled by a Cincinnati player. With 11:47 remaining, the Crimson started gaining momentum after a 3-point shot by Curry. The crimson closed out the last forty-five seconds of the first half with a jump shot by junior Wesley Saunders, a guard/forward.
The second half started off slow for the Crimson, as it took about four minutes and several missed shots before Saunders made both a lay-up and free throw. With fifteen minutes remaining, the score board was looking incredibly grim for the Crimson. Michigan State broke the fifty point mark and was besting the men in red 39-53. Not letting their NCAA hoop dreams slip from their fingers, the Crimson tightened up their game and made a concerted effort to make Michigan State work for victory.
During what must have been one of the most stressful moments in Harvard’s athletic history, the Crimson made a huge comeback with about 12 minutes remaining. Junior forward Steve Moundou-Missi played a huge role in this beautiful comeback. Basically a six-foot-seven Cameroonian prince, Moundou-Missi made three free throws and two dunks to bring the team within close range of Michigan State. Saunders’ clutch dunk tied the game up 55-55 with nine minutes remaining.
The pressure was on; Michigan State and Harvard both did everything within their power to edge the other team out. Almost immediately after Saunder’s shot, Michigan State answered back with a fiery 3-pointer from Gary Harris. Bringing the game to 57-58, Chambers made both of the free throws.
Several times throughout the game, the members of the basketball team not on the court showed support and repped their “3’s” any time captains Rivard and Curry made impressive three-point shots. Rivard and Curry made a total of five three-pointers. Chambers, not to be outdone, made one three as well, and Saunders put up huge numbers, racking up 22 points over the course of the game; he led the team in most number of points scored. Harvard fans in the crowd also showed enthusiasm over the major plays made by the Crimson-clad players.
At around 7 minutes remaining, Rivard made a beautiful three point shot, giving the Crimson a slight lead of 62-60. With a few missed shots and several missed rebounds, the Michigan State squad was able to recover the lead. In addition, the Crimson was lacking fast-break plays which also contributed to both their loss of possession and inability to score more. The Crimson seemed to look slightly stressed in the last five or so minutes of the game. Players attempted risky power plays in an attempt to close in on Michigan State. From the sidelines, one could see a serious-looking Tommy Amaker observing his team.
The end of the Crimson’s March Madness journey was in sight after two huge turnovers from Chambers and a three-point shot from Michigan’s Denzel Valentine. At this point, the score was 63-71 with 3:54 remaining. Michigan State started leaning to long plays in an attempt to run down the clock. Michigan State was also able to successfully complete six free throws within forty seconds. Each of those shots hammered the nail into the Crimson’s March Madness coffin.
In an incredibly tense last two minutes of the game, every score attempt made by Rivard, Chambers, Moundou-Missi, and Saunders was answered almost immediately by Michigan State players. Despite an incredibly action-packed second half, the Crimson fell to Michigan State 73-80. Even though Harvard lost, Tom Izzo, Michigan State’s coach, recognized that the Crimson was a force to be reckoned with in post-game interviews.
Even though the men’s basketball team is not advancing further in March Madness, the team has outdone themselves once again. Not only have they taken Harvard’s basketball program farther than its ever been, but they have done so with grace and sheer athletic prowess. One of the most touching moments during the game towards the end when the clock was winding down and the Crimson was behind came when one of Chambers’ teammates lightly lifted his chin up–this simple gesture speaks volumes to the brotherhood that is the Harvard men’s basketball team. Guided by head coach Tommy Amaker, each member of the team has made sacrifices and has put in an immense amount of work to reach the heights of collegiate sports.
Despite the loss, no one on Harvard’s campus thought negatively of the basketball team. There were several messages congratulating the team on their success and excitement about welcoming home the team after a tough battle on the court.
There are only about 358 days until the Harvard men’s basketball team is welcomed back into the Madness. Hopefully next time, we can walk away with a title.
Shaquilla Harrigan ‘16 and Sean Frazzette ‘16 ([email protected]) think Space Jam 2 should feature the Harvard Men’s Basketball Team.