Harvard Tops Yale to Clinch 3rd Straight NCAA Bid

Four straight Ivy title claims. Three straight NCAA bids. The best team in the Ivy doesn't always win the title, but this year the Crimson made sure that it did.
Four straight Ivy title claims. Three straight NCAA bids. The best team in the Ivy doesn’t always win the title, but this year, the Crimson made sure that it did.

The Harvard players celebrated and pointed to their fans as the TV cameras gazed admiringly upon the champs as they whooped it up after the buzzer sounded on yet another banner season for the Ivy’s newest dynasty. Meanwhile, silent Yale fans gritted their teeth, the inhumanity of their arch rival celebrating on their home court too much to bear. Tommy Amaker happily took in the moment, pointing to the stands and clapping briefly before moving swiftly and purposefully toward his team, directing them to the locker room. The message was clear. Winning the Ivy (again) is a great accomplishment, but Harvard’s work is not done. The Crimson have an eye on bigger things.

After a dominant performance like Friday’s, who can blame them? Harvard came out fast, capitalizing on great interior cuts and passes that led to several two-handed slams by Steve Moundou-Missi and Kyle Casey, to take a 14-2 lead on the home team. Yale fought back behind Sears, cutting the deficit to seven with a little over a minute to go before the break, but Brandyn Curry knocked down two backbreaking threes to push it back out to 13 as the half arrived. Harvard 36, Yale 23.

In the second half, Harvard continued to spread around the scoring while Yale couldn’t find its shooting touch. After a Curry layup with under 10 minutes to go put the Cantabs up 52-35, the game looked to be out of hand. But Yale stormed back with a 13-5 run of its own, capped by a ferocious dunk from Justin Sears that energized the New Haven faithful.

Down the stretch though, the difference between the two squads was stark. Harvard’s experienced leaders stepped up and knocked down a big shot every time they needed one. On the other end, Yale fought hard, hustling for offensive rebounds and making a late run, but the Dawgs couldn’t get over the hump with a big shot. The 0-14 shooting from beyond the arc was too much to overcome. Sears, even with all the attention paid to him by Harvard’s determined defense, was magnificent, going for 28 points on 11-16 FG. The rest of the Elis could only muster 7 FGs. In the final minutes, a Chambers 3 put Harvard on the verge and Rivard’s wing trifecta got the party officially started for the Crimson.

“When teamwork is the destination, victory happens along the way,” said Amaker in the post-game press conference. Cliche—sure—but this team really does embody that sentiment. With enough talent to fill two top-half Ivy rosters, they’ve consistently foregone individual accomplishments, statistics, and accolades in pursuit of a title.

On any given night, the Crimson will have a different weapon take charge based on what the opponent is taking away. It starts with Wes Saunders and Chambers, but if you don’t focus inside, you’ll get burned by Moundou-Missi. Try to get physical and you’ll have to deal with Kyle Casey. If you collapse on him, Laurent Rivard is going to have a field day on the perimeter. If you manage to contain those five and you want to get some subs in for your exhausted starters, you may have to deal with an All-Ivy guard off the bench in Brandyn Curry. What a nightmare for other Ivy coaches.

When asked how the rest of the league can catch Harvard next year, James Jones looked overwhelmed, “Be better? I don’t know. They’re so deep.”

And really, that’s been the message for the Harvard team all year: focus on preparing well—as a team—and the results will follow. Ever since the lone blemish on the Crimson resume occurred back at Lavietes on February 8th, Harvard’s looked like a different team, playing a different game, than the rest of the league. James Jones agreed, “Defensively, they were awesome. We were able to score tonight— mainly because of Justin Sears. But they did seem like a different team—defensively [compared to last time the two teams met].”

Harvard will try to carry that defensive intensity over into tonight’s regular season finale at shorthanded Brown, and then they’ll find out if they get to play a little closer to home this year when the brackets are unveiled on Selection Sunday on March 16th.