To relive the insane action of Saturday night in video form like never before, click here.
It was about 10:30 p.m. at Lavietes Pavilion on Friday night. Thirty minutes earlier, Yale had defeated Harvard, 62-52. The fans had long since left, most disappointed. Yale players, coaches and their families hugged and celebrated their Ivy title and likely trip to the NCAA Tournament. Their bliss, though hard to swallow for a Crimson onlooker, was well-deserved. The Bulldogs had done it. They had beaten Harvard to virtually assure an end to the Crimson’s reign of dominance in the Ivy League – or, at least, to postpone it for a year.
But Harvard senior Wesley Saunders wasn’t ready to concede the trophy just yet. When asked about his team’s chances of getting another opportunity to knock off Yale in a one-game playoff, he said, “Crazier things have happened.” I’m not sure what “crazy” things Saunders was referring to, but there’s no way they could have been more insane than what went down on Saturday night atop the Ivy League.
Going into Saturday night, Harvard needed a win versus Brown coupled with a Yale loss at Dartmouth to earn their fifth straight Ivy League Championship and a spot in a one-game playoff for the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Harvard game began at 6:00 p.m., and by 8:00 p.m., the Crimson had held up their side of the bargain with a resounding 72-62 victory over Brown.
But many of the fans in Lavietes Pavilion did not go home. They wanted the season to last longer, and they needed Dartmouth to make their wishes come true. The second half of the Yale-Dartmouth game (which started at 7:00 p.m.) was about to resume (with Yale leading 30-29 at the break), and Crimson loyalists had their eyes glued to their smartphones for the latest score updates.
For Harvard players and coaches, the “scoreboard watching” had started even earlier: Wesley Saunders said afterwards that updates from the game in Hanover were circulated from the stands to the bench “like in a game of telephone” before Harvard had even finished off Brown.
The “crowd” that lingered in Lavietes Pavilion consisted of mostly players, their family members, media members, Harvard athletics staff, the late night clean-up crew, and a few die-hard Crimson fans (they don’t kick you out of the arena when a fifth straight Ivy title is on the line and everyone is crowded around an iPhone to watch the decisive game in Harvard’s season).
Let’s relive the scene at Lavieties. (Cue “Don’t Stop Believin’” and “Livin’ on a Prayer” for the full experience.)
There are 23 seconds left, and Yale is up by three with the ball. “Just not to Duren,” a Crimson player mutters, recalling the Yale phenom’s foul shooting prowess from the night before. But to Duren the ball goes, and he draws a quadruple-team, which leads not to a foul call, but to a jump ball, and the possession arrow rewards Dartmouth. Lavietes explodes with glee and disbelief. Eighteen seconds left. Dartmouth inbounds the ball and a pass finds Miles Wright beyond the arc at the top of the key. Wright rises up for three and buries it. Tied ballgame. Another explosion at Lavietes. The 30 Crimson supporters present are actually louder than all 2,000 Harvard fans had been at any point the night before during the loss to Yale.
Twelve seconds left, tied game, Yale ball. Duren, who had been so money against Harvard on Friday night, drives the length of the floor, and with three ticks remaining, tosses up a heavily defended short jump shot from the left of the backboard and misses badly. Harvard players and fans alike rejoice – until they realize a foul has been called on Dartmouth. Two shots for Duren. “No! No! No! You can’t call that!” says one Harvard player. “I can’t watch this,” murmurs another player as he walks away from the screen. (The emotion swings were not for the faint of heart.)
Duren steps to the line. The first shot clanks off the rim. Giddiness ensues in Cambridge. Will he miss both? Will we have overtime? Duren’s second shot swishes through the net, and Yale takes a one-point lead with 2.3 seconds remaining. The dream, the prayer, the miracle for Harvard (and for Dartmouth) seems to be disappearing. Fans and players in Lavietes start to adjust to a new identity: runner-up.
Out of a timeout, Dartmouth coach Paul Cormier runs a failed play that turns out to be brilliant. He has Miles Wright throw the ball the length of the court, but it’s too high and too far for any of his teammates to reach, and only Yale’s Justin Sears is able to touch the ball as it careens out of bounds. One second ticks off the clock, and now Dartmouth has the ball under its own hoop with 1.2 seconds remaining. In Cambridge, hearts stop beating, and everyone prays that the replay confirms the ref’s call. It does. Hearts start beating again. And the game isn’t over yet.
In Lavietes, most players and fans are crowded around three laptops and one iPhone. Several others simply pace on the court, unable to watch. There is silence as Dartmouth’s John Golden is handed the ball by the referee. Dartmouth’s Alex Mitola sets a pick on Matt Townsend, and Maldunas races from the left corner to the foul line, catches Golden’s perfect arcing pass, and lays it in as time expires.
To describe the feeling in Lavietes at this moment as anything less than pure euphoria would be just wrong. Players rolled on the floor crying tears of joy, basking in the happiness of the utterly impossible becoming a reality. Fans went berserk.
As the highlights of the Golden-to-Maldunas play rolled on Sports Center an hour later (it was the No. 2 play in the Top Ten), Scott Van Pelt cried, “Oh Yale… Ohhh Yale. They just needed to not let this happen, and they were going to the tournament! About a hundred things had to happen late in order for Yale to not advance, and they did!”
Ironically, after Yale’s win over Harvard the night before, James Jones responded to a question regarding Harvard’s poor shooting by saying, “I’ll take luck any day.” And on Saturday, the Crimson could not have agreed more.
Let’s take a look at the final stats from Lavietes:
Number of times “Thank you Dahtmuth!” was yelled: six.
Number of times “Are you kiddin’ me?!” was uttered: 12.
Number of plans for next weekend that need to be cancelled: all of them.
Why stop when it doesn’t have to end? The finale of the 15-game tournament (for sure, this time) will take place on Saturday at the Palestra (“the Cathedral of College Basketball”) in Philadelphia. It should be can’t miss entertainment. No one knows quite yet which team will represent the Ivy League in the Big Dance, but one thing is certain: the team that does will have earned it.