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Earlier this season, many thought the Harvard Crimson had a legitimate shot at advancing deep into the NCAA tournament — at least deeper than a usual Ivy contender.

Not yet. In its first tourney appearance since 1946, Harvard fell, 79-70, to SEC tournament champion Vanderbilt in Albuquerque, N.M.

The Crimson played Vandy close through much of the first half, but the Commodores pulled away before the break, thanks to a 13-0 run. They opened up a 19-point lead midway through the second, but Harvard was able to narrow the deficit to five with just a minute and a half left. However, the Crimson couldn’t close the gap.

“I’d like to think that we did something differently [in the second half],” coach Tommy Amaker said. “We tried hard not to bail them out. They’re an experienced team. They handled the ball well. They’re an outstanding basketball club … that’s built to make a strong, deep run in this tournament.

Crimson sophomore Laurent Rivard led Harvard with 20 points. Forwards Keith Wright and Kyle Casey scored eight and 13 points, respectively. Wright added nine rebounds. Vanderbilt guard John Jenkins scored 27, shooting 7-for-12.

It will still be a banner season for Harvard. The Crimson cracked the Top 25 rankings for several weeks, and captured their first-ever outright Ivy League title.

“We’ve put a lot of time, blood, sweat and tears into this basketball program,” senior forward Keith Wright said.

“One of the goals was to make it to the tournament. Unfortunately, we didn’t come out with a victory, but this is something that we’re going to carry with us for the rest of our lives.”

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