The Palestra – Arena of dreams

Yale freshman guard Makai Mason looks on as Harvard celebrates a fourth straight NCAA tournament berth in front of a crowd of 5.256 at the Palestra. (AP)
Yale freshman guard Makai Mason looks on as Harvard celebrates a fourth straight NCAA tournament berth in front of a crowd of 5.256 at the Palestra. (AP)

If you play it, they will come.

For Saturday’s Ivy League playoff, the emotions ran the gamut from high to low, from hope to despair, from anxiety to exhilaration, as the Palestra played the role of backdrop to one final night of Ivy League theatre, regaining its role as the arena of Ancient Eight dreams.

Harvard-Yale was everything one could have asked for and more with the third game in the fierce rivals’ season series nearly needing overtime. Seriously, what could have been better? You take two evenly matched teams playing to the wire and feature them at by far the best arena in the entire conference.

All I ask is that we see this again.

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Wesley Saunders makes all the right plays … again

Wesley Saunders took over in the most critical half of the 2015 Ivy slate, reeling off a 9-0 run early in the second stanza and dishing the game-winning assist to fellow senior Steve Moundou-Missi. (Getty)
Wesley Saunders took over in the most critical half of the 2015 Ivy slate, reeling off a 9-0 run early in the second stanza and dishing the game-winning assist to fellow senior Steve Moundou-Missi. (Getty)

For a Pennsylvanian, albeit one with steadfast Tiger loyalties, The Palestra has always been college basketball’s showcase arena. May it ever be!!! Yesterday’s Ivy League playoff adds another memorable chapter to The Cathedral’s legendary history.

The announced attendance of 5,266 was far less than a capacity crowd, evidently diminished by bad weather and long-distance travel hurdles. But one must remember that this was easily the largest crowd to see an Ivy League game in several seasons.

The pregame mood was festive, but somewhat apprehensive as everyone understood that they were about to witness another hard fought, hand-to-hand street-fight likely to come down to the final possession, what Yogi Berra famously described as  “a real cliff-dweller.” This game delivered, in spades.

Read moreWesley Saunders makes all the right plays … again

Harvard defeats Yale, 53-51, clinches fourth straight NCAA tourney berth

Four in a row.

The Harvard Crimson locked up their fourth straight NCAA tournament appearance with a 53-51 win over Yale at the Palestra in the league’s playoff game. The game-winning perimeter shot came from senior forward Steve Moundou-Missi, who finished with 11 points and nine rebounds. The assist, fittingly, came from senior guard Wesley Saunders, who posted 22 points, 18 of them in the second half. A floater off a drive from Yale senior guard Javier Duren rolled out as time expired, sealing the Crimson win.

Harvard led 46-37 with 6:22 left and went into conservative mode, dribbling possessions down and trying to hang onto the lead. Yale responded with a 12-2 run in the next 4:36, capped by a jumper from freshman guard Makai Mason, who was elbowed earlier in the half without a foul call being called, resulting in a gash on his head that rattled the Bulldogs in the early part of the half. Nevertheless, the Crimson were lifted not by that but by a 9-0 run from Saunders alone a quarter of the way through the second stanza.

Harvard also opened the game on an 8-0 run before Yale responded with a 14-3 run in the next 5:45, and the Elis led 27-23 at halftime. Ivy Player of the Year and Yale junior forward Justin Sears finished with 13 points, five rebounds and three steals, while Yale senior guard Javier Duren notched 12 points and six rebounds on 2-for-10 shooting.

In Harvard’s loss to Yale at Lavietes Pavilion last weekend, the Crimson shot just 1-for-13 from three-point range, losing by 10, 62-52. In Harvard’s win Saturday, it shot 5-for-14, collecting 12 more points from beyond the arc and winning by two.

Harvard’s opponent in the NCAA tournament will be determined Sunday. The Crimson have won their first game in the tournament in each of the past two seasons. Harvard and Yale were slated for the playoff game after finishing with identical 11-3 records in league play. The Crimson’s previous playoff game appearance was a 63-62 loss to Princeton at Yale’s Payne Whitney Gym in 2011, decided at the buzzer.

Yale leads Harvard at halftime, 27-23

Yale leads Harvard at halftime of the Ivy League playoff game to determine the conference’s NCAA tournament representative, 27-23.

In front of a Palestra crowd that seems to be leaning Crimson, Harvard raced to an 8-0 lead but the Bulldogs reeled off a 14-3 run in the next 5:45, led by senior forward (and Newton, Mass. native) Greg Kelley’s eight points and two three-pointers off the bench.

Kelley also registered a block of Harvard senior forward Steve Moundou-Missi, who posted seven points and six rebounds, almost on par with his team-leading 21 points and 10 rebounds in a 62-52 loss to Harvard at Lavietes Pavilion last weekend.

The Crimson are shooting just 9-for-22 from the field and an even worse 2-for-7 from the free throw line. Meanwhile, three Elis have committed two fouls – junior forward Justin Sears, senior guard Armani Cotton and senior guard Javier Duren, who sat much of the half with those fouls.

As expected, this game is on pace to finish with neither team scoring more than 54 points, a capstone edition of Ivy uglyball. It’s a beautiful thing, and there are 20 minutes left.

Time for the Ivy League to increase TV visibility

The 10th Ivy League playoff in history is set to tip off in a few hours, and it will not be broadcasted nationally. The Ivy League’s hands are tied. And the sad thing is, the league pushed itself to that point.

In the Ivy League, tradition is spelled a-r-c-h-a-i-c. It’s that traditional (read: old) thought process that led to Saturday’s Ivy League playoff between Harvard and Yale being broadcast only on the American Sports Network, which essentially means that it’ll air on various local affiliates across the nation, and ESPN3, an online channel for the World Wide Leader that will air almost any sport as long as the customer is willing to pay a fee.

For sports like cricket and ultimate frisbee – fringe sports that are trying to gain popularity in America – what ESPN3 has to provide is enough. For arena football or lacrosse, a local affiliate station is good enough. But for the Ivy League, a basketball conference that provides just as much excitement as any, it shouldn’t be.

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The Game 3.0

There are games ... and then there are Games. And then there
There are games … and then there are Games.
… And then there”s this Game.

The Game 2.0 was supposed to be for all the marbles. Yale defeated Harvard in that one, but the next night, Dartmouth stole the marbles back from the Bulldogs. The Big Green’s miracle win versus Yale last Saturday will give Harvard a second shot at Yale this weekend. You have questions about this game? Read on for the answers.

The matchups I wrote about prior to the Yale victory will certainly be important once again, but an eventful week has passed since that article, so let’s look at some unique keys to this game:

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Do you believe in miracles?

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.

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Yale defeats Harvard, clinches share of first Ivy title since 2002

Javier Duren notched a winning stat line: 22 points, nine rebounds, three assists, two steals and one block at Harvard.(ivyleaguesports.com)
Javier Duren notched a winning stat line: 22 points, nine rebounds, three assists, two steals and one block at Harvard.(ivyleaguesports.com)

Yale is a win away from history.

The Bulldogs clinched a share of their first Ivy title since 2002 Friday night by defeating Harvard at Lavietes Pavilion in Boston, 62-52. The win, fueled by senior guard Javier Duren’s 22 points and nine rebounds, gives Yale the chance to earn its first NCAA tournament berth since 1962 with a win at Dartmouth tomorrow night.

The Elis’ win at Harvard, which has represented the Ivy League in the NCAA tournament each of the past four seasons, played out in surprising fashion.

Read moreYale defeats Harvard, clinches share of first Ivy title since 2002

Yale-Harvard: The matchups that matter most

It used to always be this simple. Two teams — archrivals head and shoulders above the rest of the league — battle through the long slog of a 14-game tournament, rising above the Other Six to meet in an epic finale. With condolences to the P’s, this season, we return to that reliable formula under the New World Order as, for the second consecutive year, Harvard and Yale enter the final weekend as the only two teams still with a shot at the Ivy title.

Let’s take a look at the key matchups in this winner-take-all grudge match (though Brown and Dartmouth may have a few things to say about that on Saturday):

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The Game 2.0

Can Harvard break Yale's heart in "The Game" once again? (gocrimson.com)
Can Harvard break Yale’s heart in “The Game” once again? (gocrimson.com)

On Nov. 22, 2014, Harvard defeated Yale in a thriller on the gridiron just a few hundred yards from Lavietes Pavilion. This Friday, Yale will get its chance at revenge – not only for this fall’s loss, but also for losses in 13 of the last 14 football “Games,” as well as for four straight years of Harvard dominance in men’s basketball. However, when the Bulldogs arrive in Cambridge this Friday, they will not be focused on past results; they will have their sights set on the 2015 Ivy League championship. This would be Yale’s first conference title since 2002.

There is also no shortage of motivation on the Harvard side. The Crimson will go for its fifth straight Ivy title. The last a team to do that was Penn (six straight from 1970 to 1975).

Evidently, this is it. The winner of this game will clinch a share of the Ivy title. So the question looms: Harvard or Yale? Who will win Friday’s showdown? Who will hoist the 2015 Ivy League Championship banner? Who’s going dancing? Luckily, I’m here to answer that question. To begin, let’s take a look at a few key matchups:

Read moreThe Game 2.0