Harvard will host a Selection Show watch party Sunday at 5:30 p.m. (Hunter Martin).
PHILADELPHIA – The Harvard men's basketball team is going dancing again after defeating Yale Saturday afternoon, 53-51, in a one-game playoff at The Palestra to decide the Ivy League's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
With the scored tied 51-51 and the shot clock winding down, Wesley Saunders spun around his defender into the lane, and appeared to be poised to take the game-winning shot. The senior guard stopped, however, and turned back to his left, feeding classmate Steve Moundou-Missi who swished his shot from the top of the key for the 53-51 lead with 7.2 seconds remaining.
Needing to make one final stop, the Ancient Eight's best defense turned to the newly minted defensive player of the year, Moundou-Missi, who attempted to draw a charge on Javier Duren and altered the shot just enough. A few bounces later the buzzer sounded, and the court was flooded with Harvard fans celebrating the team's fourth straight trip to the NCAA tournament.
Saunders finished with a game-high 22 points, with 18 of those points coming in the second half. Saunders shot 6-of-8 from the floor after the break and dished off two assists, with the biggest of his career coming on the final play.
Moundou-Missi just missed a double-double with 11 points and nine boards, and became the 34th member of Harvard's 1,000-point club on his basket with 57 seconds remaining in the first. Siyani Chambers added seven points and two assists, with Jonah Travis contributing five points and seven rebounds.
Harvard (22-7, 11-3) will now await its tournament fate when the brackets are revealed Sunday, March 15 at 6 p.m. during the CBS Selection Show. The Crimson will once again host a viewing party in the Lee Family Hall of History, and invites all members of the Harvard community to join the team beginning at 5:30 p.m.
Yale, which shared this year's Ivy League title with Harvard, finishes the year with a 22-10 overall record, 11-3 in conference. Justin Sears paced the Bulldogs with 13 pionts and five rebounds, while Javier Duren added 12 points and six boards.
The Harvard cheering section, which made a six-hour drive from Cambridge, gave The Palestra a pro-Crimson feel which paid off early as Harvard rattled off the game's first eight points. Chambers scored five straight in the opening moments with Saunders' jumper capping the stretch off. Yale bounced back and tied the game with Duran at the line, 9-9, and took its first lead on Greg Kelley's 3-pointer, 12-11.
A 3 by Moundou-Missi evened the score before Kenyatta Smith's dunk regained a 16-14 edge for the Crimson. The teams continued to trade the lead back-and-forth, with Armani Cotton's breakaway dunk putting the Bulldogs up 23-19 with 2:19 remaining in the half. Moundou-Missi scored on consecutive possessions to prevent Yale from pulling away, however, and Elli's took a 27-23 margin into the break.
Moundou-Missi scored the first points after the intermission and a Saunders and-one made it a 32-30 game. Saunders connected from beyond-the-arc moments later to put Harvard back on top, 33-32, and hit from nearly the same spot on the next possessions for a 36-32 edge. Travis ended Saunders' personal 9-0 run with a putback, and two free throws from Saunders gave Harvard its largest lead since the initial 8-0 run to start the game, 40-32.
After Yale pulled to within 40-37, Saunders scored four of six points to move the score to 46-37. The Bulldogs chipped away at the deficit once again, this time making it 48-47 thanks to four Duren free throws. Makai Mason edged Yale ahead after a difficult bounce led to an offensive rebound, 49-48, but Saunders had the answer once again with an and-one at the other end, 51-49. Duren went to the line once more to retie the score at 51, setting up the final sequence for the Crimson.
Game Notes: Harvard has advanced to each of the last four NCAA tournaments, becoming the first Ivy League program to play in the Big Dance in four straight years since Princeton did so from 1989-92 … Harvard will host a Selection Show watch party Sunday, March 15 in the Lee Family Hall of History beginning at 5:30 p.m. … Wesley Saunders scored 22 points to move past Jeremy Lin '10 (1,483) and Dan Clemente'01 (1,484) for fourth place on Harvard's career scoring list (1,485) … Steve Moundou-Missi scored 11 points to become the 34th member of Harvard's 1,000-point club (1,004) … Steve Moundou-Missi grabbed nine rebounds to move into 10th place on Harvard's career rebounds list (662) … The announced attendance for the Ivy League Men's Basketball Playoff was 5,256.