33.2 seconds. Tie game. An NCAA Tournament bid on the line.
In the end, experience trumped all as senior forward Steve Moundou-Missi drained a midrange jumper in the final 10 seconds to help Harvard claim its fourth-straight automatic NCAA Tournament bid. The Crimson beat Yale, 53-51, on the late jumper to win the Ivy League Men’s Basketball Playoff at the Palestra on Saturday.
“Ivy titles are very hard to come by and so we’re proud of being Ivy League champions, and we’re never going to downplay that,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said about the rising expectations of the Crimson’s program.
After the game, Harvard’s fans stormed the Palestra floor before the Crimson cut down the nets, celebrating the Ivy title in style. The historic arena was a picturesque backdrop to the one-game playoff between the Bulldogs and Harvard, as both squads finished tied atop the Ancient Eight in the regular season. Each team took turns posing with the Ivy League Championship trophy before tipping off.
“Our league has been an outstanding conference all year from top to bottom,” Amaker said.
After tip-off, Harvard jumped out in front with an impressive 8-0 run, led by junior captain and point guard Siyani Chambers. However, Yale quickly responded with a 14-3 run of its own, leading to a back-and-forth end to the first half.
The Elis were boosted by two forwards in the early going, as senior Greg Kelley and junior Justin Sears put up eight points apiece in the first period. Sears’ dunk at the end of the first half gave Yale a 27-23 lead at halftime.
But soon after halftime, the game turned into the Wesley Saunders show. Harvard’s star senior forward struggled from the field in the first half, making only two of his seven shots, but came out on fire in the second half, going on a 9-0 run by himself to catapult the Crimson into the lead.
“I’ve always said about Wesley as I’ve said about [former Harvard guard and NBA All-Star] Jeremy Lin, it’s not about the points he scores, it’s always about the points he’s responsible for,” Amaker said. “I thought the way Wesley played this afternoon, he put us on his back and carried us.”
Led by Saunders, Harvard took a 46-37 lead going into the final six minutes, but Yale slowly made its way back. After the two squads exchanged baskets, the Elis used a 9-0 run led by senior guards Javier Duren and Armani Cotton to take a one-point lead. Saunders quickly responded with a layup and a free throw before Duren tied the game with two more free throws in the final minute.
On the final possession, Saunders drove in isolation to the free throw line, before turning and dishing to Moundou-Missi, who drained the clutch jumper.
“I trust Steve to knock down that shot more than I trust myself maybe,” Saunders said about passing on the final play.
Yale quickly drove down the court but Duren’s last-second floater hit back rim and missed, while Sears’ tip-in attempt was too late. Despite missing the final shot, Duren was able to keep the game in perspective and was happy to have been a part of the thrilling game.
“It was probably the most fun game I’ve been a part of in my Yale career,” Duren said. “As much as I want to be mad — I’m a competitor like everyone else — I can’t but be humble, just be proud not only of myself but the other guys who are back fighting alongside me.”
The thrilling game provided the perfect finish to the Ivy season, regardless of venue.
“No disrespect to the Palestra, I would have played this outside,” Yale coach James Jones said. “It doesn’t matter where the game is being played.”Comments powered by Disqus
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