So close. So very close.
After trailing 50-34 with 16:36 remaining in its NCAA tournament matchup with North Carolina, Harvard looked done. The No. 13 Crimson looked one-dimensional nearly the entire game up to that point, with that dimension being senior guard Wesley Saunders.
But a true team comeback propelled Harvard to its first lead of the game with 1:17 remaining, and Saunders had a chance to win the game with a three-pointer as time expired. The shot hit the glass and rim before popping out, ending Harvard’s season and giving No. 4 North Carolina the 67-65 victory in Jacksonville.
Saunders scored the first 10 points of the game for Harvard (22-8, 11-3 Ivy). It took 10:56 for a Harvard player other than Saunders to score, and at one point, Harvard was shooting 1-for-14 outside of Saunders.
Harvard also struggled to play at its preferred slow pace, as the size advantage for North Carolina (25-11, 11-7 ACC) led to difficult offensive possessions for the Crimson, which in turn led to long rebounds and transition buckets for the Tar Heels, who prefer a quicker tempo and looked in excellent shape with a 36-25 halftime lead.
But a 31-13 run capped by a four-point play from junior guard Siyani Chambers with 77 seconds left gave the Crimson their first lead of the game and consolidated the pro-Harvard partisan crowd. Unfortunately, those would be Harvard’s final points of the season, as Chambers would miss his next two trey attempts before Saunders’ final miss.
Freshman forward Justin Jackson scored the final four points of the game, enough for him to lead the Tar Heels with 14 points on 5-for-8 shooting, including 2-for-2 from beyond the arc. Saunders finished with 26 points, five assists and two steals in his final collegiate game. Chambers notched 13 points on 5-for-13 shooting.
The loss marks the Crimson’s first opening-round NCAA tournament loss since losing to Vanderbilt 79-70 in 2012. Harvard defeated Cincinnati and New Mexico in the Crimson’s past two NCAA appearances.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams improves to 25-0 in opening-round games in his career at UNC and Kansas.
Harvard’s ouster means no men’s Ivies remain in postseason play.