North Carolina ekes past Harvard, 67-65

Wesley Saunders scored 26 points in his final collegiate game Thursday night. (zimbio.com)
Wesley Saunders scored 26 points in his final collegiate game Thursday night. (zimbio.com)

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.

9 thoughts on “North Carolina ekes past Harvard, 67-65

  1. That last Saunders shot was both long and off to the right. If it had been only long, it would have banked right in.

    Whatever mystical force was at work when Yale visited Hanover must not have made the trip down to Jacksonville.

  2. Almost beating North Carolina may be even bigger than beating New Mexico and Cincinnati. Similar to Princeton’s narrow loss to Kentucky four years ago. With the exception of the Vanderbilt game three years ago, the Ivy League has played impressively in the first game of the NCAA tournament over the last five years. I wonder how many more games the Crimson could have won during the regular season if they had let Saunders shoot as much as he did against Yale and North Carolina. And was Wesley Saunders one of the top three players on the floor tonight? I think yes. And I think Roy Williams thinks so too. Great blog all season, editors! Thank you!

  3. Here’s a small but important consolation for the Ivy League. Harvard defeats North Carolina on the basis of Academic Progress Rates, 963 for the Crimson and 938 for the Tar Heels. This is actually a meaningful milestone for the Ivies, because UNC is the first opponent that Harvard has ever had in the NCAA tournament which had a lower APR than the Crimson. New Mexico, Cincinnati et al. all had higher academic scores.

    So it’s a big step in the right direction for our conference.

    • Do you even know what Academic Progress Rating measures? Its a mis-named stat. Has almost nothing to do with actual academics.

      • Yes, Myra, JP is correct. APR does not make a judgment about whether an “A” is more difficult to achieve at Harvard or UNC. APR measures whether a basketball program is keeping its players in school and making “progress” toward graduation. A high score means that the team keeps its players in school. A low APR means that relatively more players are not staying on campus as enrolled students when they have eligibility remaining. For some Power Five teams, it’s because recruits leave for the NBA. That’s not the case at Harvard, where a low APR reflects academic problems.

        So it’s not that an “A” is more or less difficult to earn an “A” at UNC. It’s that Harvard does a better job than UNC in keeping players on track academically, but not as good as, say, New Mexico or Cincinnati.

        • Harvard’s low APR reflects student-athletes who transferred away from Harvard (for whatever reason – including that they weren’t getting playing time — such as Michael Hall -that hurts APR) and their APR also took a hit when players un-enrolled for the year in 2012-13 in wake of cheating scandal. I am not aware of any Harvard players who have not remained eligible academically (which is the only “academic” aspect of the measurement). Are you? Unless someone can verify that Harvard players (or players on any Ivy team) are not staying eligible academically, we should stop judging their academics based on this vague APR measurement. BTW, does anyone know, will Columbia’s APR take a hit because Rosenberg un-enrolled (because of injury)? Thanks.

          • Three thoughts on this topic:

            (1) I’m pretty sure that Hall’s transfer out of Harvard has not yet impacted Harvard’s APR because he transferred out during the 2014-15 academic year. If I am correct, then his transfer will lower Harvard’s APR next year.

            (2) I have no visibility into Hall’s academic situation when he transferred out, but why would one suggest that he transferred solely for basketball reasons? He was a very highly recruited player coming out of high school and yet now is transferring to Division II Morehouse College. He’s essentially dropping out of major college basketball, so that doesn’t sound like a purely basketball decision. To be fair, coming out of high school, he was regularly described as an excellent student, so I don’t mean to conclude that it must have been for academic reasons, only that it’s an open question.

            (3) While Hall has been described as an excellent student, most Harvard recruits have not been noted as such (which of course does not imply they are poor students, merely not excellent). Harvard’s APR is not just *slightly* low, it’s the second lowest APR of any Ivy team in any sport, behind every varsity roster at all eight schools with the exception of Penn men’s fencing. With all those Harvard basketball players not progressing toward graduation, why would an observer think that all those players are transferring out for solely basketball reasons? And of course, withdrawing from school in the midst of a cheating scandal is not exactly a “good” reason for not progressing toward graduation.

            I agree that the APR metric is not perfect. It’s not even excellent. But it’s all we’ve got. Harvard is unquestionably recruiting academically weaker players than it did under the Frank Sullivan regime and also weaker than Princeton and Yale do. It’s inconclusive where among the other five schools Harvard ranks academically, but it’s likely to be close to the bottom. So therefore I’m not so quick to conclude that all those Harvard players transferring out are not having academic challenges. Whatever is going on within Lavietes Pavilion, it’s not happening at the other seven Ivies (to the same extent).

  4. It’s snowing as I write this – no spring, yet. But your winter basektball reports, much appreicated, thanks.

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