Harvard all-time moment No. 7: Harvard’s amazing comeback vs. North Carolina in first round of 2015 NCAA Tournament

We’re counting down the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s history as part of our Ivy League at 60 retrospective. Harvard is next because …go Knicks!

March 15, 2015 was Selection Sunday, and Harvard fans and players gathered in the Murr Center in Cambridge to see who the Crimson would face in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. This was the fourth consecutive year the Crimson would be dancing. In the previous three years, they had faced three solid teams in Vanderbilt, New Mexico and Cincinnati. Then the brackets were revealed, and Harvard learned that this year it was matched against perennial national championship contender North Carolina. Everyone knew this year would be different.

Having squeaked into the tournament by narrowly defeating Yale in a one-game playoff, the Crimson were heavy underdogs. And their first half play reflected that. The Crimson trailed by 11 at the break but were that close only because of Wesley Saunders’ heroic 20-minute, 15-point performance in the stanza. Harvard looked like it’d need 30 points from Saunders in the second half to pull out a win.

As the game progressed, the Tar Heels pushed the lead to sixteen. The Crimson were down but not out, and over a 10-minute span, Harvard amazingly cut the lead to three. The Crimson fans in Jacksonville, though heavily outnumbered by fans wearing light blue, were electric. North Carolina fought hard to keep its lead, but the Crimson were playing like a legitimate Sweet Sixteen contender.

With one minute to play, Harvard’s Siyani Chambers nailed a three-point shot that will send goosebumps through the veins of Crimson basketball fans for decades: a fadeaway catch-and-shoot and-one, which (with his swished free throw) gave the Crimson the lead. Shock and euphoria surged through the Harvard fan section as Siyani Chambers flexed his muscles in the face of former McDonald’s All-American guard and fellow Minnesotan Marcus Paige, against whom Chambers had competed on the AAU level only a few years earlier. UNC head coach Roy Williams shook his head in disbelief. UNC and Harvard traded buckets, and with 10 seconds remaining, Harvard trailed by two with possession of the ball. Saunders dribbled at the top of the key, looked to sharpshooter Corbin Miller (who was covered), then faked to the basket and pulled up for three for the win. Clank. Game over.

During the postgame presser, Roy Williams said it was the luckiest he has ever felt after a win in his career. The outcome was a Harvard loss, but the fact that the Crimson competed like the national contender it is on such a big stage and outscored North Carolina 58-46 in the final 30 minutes of the game makes it one of Harvard basketball’s proudest moments.

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