Harvard upsets New Mexico to win first NCAA Tourney game in school’s history

Head coach Tommy Amaker and the Crimson bench celebrate at the conclusion of Thursday's upset win over New Mexico. (Photo: Getty images)
Head coach Tommy Amaker and the Crimson bench celebrate at the conclusion of Thursday’s upset win over New Mexico. Credit: Getty Images

For now, the talk of Harvard’s majors will cease. The talk of Harvard’s major upset … well, that’s another story.

Actually, that’s this story.

The No. 14 seed Crimson knocked off the No. 3 seed New Mexico Lobos, 68-62, Thursday night, a win that had even Harvard professors scratching their heads.

Without its two best players, Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey, who withdrew from Harvard prior to the season due to a widespread cheating scandal that they were part of, the Crimson took the Ivy League anyways, and now find themselves in the third round of the NCAA Tournament, set to play Arizona on Saturday.

“I’m exceptionally proud of our guys,” Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker told CBS after the win. “They had to believe. And we talked about preparation, we talked about passion, and we talked about belief. We battled a really good basketball team in a tough environment. I’m very proud of our guys.”

The Lobos took a 53-52 with 6:30 left in the game, but true to form, Harvard had an answer.

Laurent Rivard (17 points, 5 rebounds) drained a three-pointer – one of his five on the night – to start a 7-0 run and give Harvard a lead it wouldn’t relinquish for the rest of the game.

“Well I’ve always been exceptionally impressed with [Rivard],” Amaker said. “I consider him the best shooter in New England. We used to tease him that he’s the best shooter in Boston behind Ray Allen, when he was with the Celtics. But he can shoot the ball with the best of them.”

But Rivard wasn’t the only effective player for Harvard. Four of their starters finished in double figures, including First-Team All-Ivy Wesley Saunders, who led the team with 18 points. Kenyatta Smith added 10 points and 7 rebounds in effective but limited minutes due to foul trouble, and First-Team All-Ivy and Ivy League Rookie of the Year guard Siyani Chambers dished out 7 assists to go along with five points.

As a team, Harvard shot 52.4-percent from the field including 44.4-percent from three-point range. They also went 16-20 from the free throw line – all of which came in the second half.

The only thing New Mexico could somewhat exploit was Harvard’s lack of size, as the Lobos grabbed 13 offensive rebounds, which ultimately led to a 56-42 field goal attempts advantage for New Mexico – that they didn’t do enough with.

It was clear early on that Harvard hit the books on the Lobos prior to tipoff, as they jumped out to a 9-2 run to start the game. The Lobos would put a dent in their deficit – usually by working it down low with 7-footer Alex Kirk (22 points, 12 rebounds) – only to see Harvard respond with a run of its own.

It wasn’t until a 6-0 New Mexico run to start the second half that Harvard trailed in this game, but it was short-lived. That Lobos run was the kick in the shorts the Crimson needed, as they responded with the next eight points to lead 39-31.

Harvard would hit one more jump shot with 14:16 remaining in the game before going cold from the field until a Saunders layup – plus the foul – with 6:42 remaining gave them a 52-51 lead.

Kirk hit a layup to put NMU back up on top, but that would be it, as Harvard took over from there.

“It means the world to our team,” Rivard said of the win. “Last year we made it for the first time since 1946 in the NCAA Tournament. We lost to Vanderbilt in a  tough game, but this year we wanted to come back here, get a win first time in school history. Can’t get bigger than that.”

Take a deep breath, Harvard. The first one is finally out of the way. It’s now on to the next test — but for once, that’s not such a bad thing.


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