CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – An hour before tipoff, there was no power inside Lavietes Pavilion.
That appeared to be an ominous sign for Harvard, which needed a win over Brown and a Yale loss to Dartmouth, on the final day of the regular season, in order to keep its NCAA Tournament hopes alive.
By 9:02 p.m., in a state of bliss, Harvard senior forward Jonah Travis laid motionless on the court staring directly up at the Lavietes’ lights.
After an agonizing 62 minutes of sitting and waiting, an improbable sequence of events resulted in Harvard and Yale sharing the Ivy League title (the fifth straight for the Crimson), meaning the two teams will square off next Saturday at The Palestra in Philadelphia for a trip to the 2015 NCAA Tournament.
“Live to fight another day!” Travis told NBCSports.com.
Harvard had just completed a 72-62 win over Brown in the regular season finale on Saturday night. For the next hour, the Crimson would see if Dartmouth would do its part by upsetting league-leading Yale. The night before, the Bulldogs had taken control of the Ivy League with a 62-52 win at Harvard, leaving Yale one-win shy of the program’s first tournament appearance since 1962.
“What’s the score?” Harvard’s Tommy Amaker asked reporters after the game, a rare instance in which a coach asks the first question during a press conference.
Two computers were streaming the game with the Bulldogs leading the Big Green 39-35 with 15:30 left in regulation. Amaker answered questions for 15 minutes before he exited the lounge that hangs above the far baseline of the arena.
Of course, not before he could get another update as he exited through the door.
“What do we got? What’s the score?” Amaker asked.
“49-46, Yale. 8:39 left,” he was told.
“Here we go,” Amaker said.
With less than 30 seconds in the game, Harvard was up 69-60 when reserve forward Evan Cummins was fouled after corralling a miss from Brown’s Tavon Blackmon. Cummins made his way to the line as the Harvard student section began chanting, “Let’s go Dartmouth!” At that point, it was halftime in Hanover with Yale leading 30-29.
“We were talking a little bit about [the Yale-Dartmouth game] on the bench,” Harvard senior forward Wesley Saunders said.
“Somebody heard the score. I guess someone in the crowd was keeping up with the game. It was like [the game] Telephone … passing the score along.”
Once in the locker room, players were quick to confirm the scores they had heard while on the bench, tracking the Yale-Dartmouth game on their phones. With a senior night reception scheduled at the nearby Murr Center Lounge, many of the players filed out of the gym with their eyes glued to their screens.
Several players chose to stay, watching the online stream along with two-dozen spectators, a far cry from the 2,195 fans that had packed the arena half an hour earlier.
By now, it’s 8:52 p.m. Yale has extended its lead to 57-52 with 35.2 left in regulation. Dartmouth freshman guard Miles Wright was fouled on the ensuing possession and went to the line shooting two.
“I can’t watch this,” shouts freshman guard Andre Chatfield, who left his spot at the scorer’s table and headed for the locker room.
Wright made both free throws, which cut the Yale lead to 57-54.
Chatfield came back to center court to hear that Dartmouth had forced a jump ball and re-gained possession. The 6-foot-4 freshman wanted to see what’s going on, but superstitious fans prohibited him from watching. Things have turned around since he walked away.
Chatfield and sophomore guard Matt Fraschilla stood together at midcourt, as Dartmouth took a 30-second timeout.
“Where’s my man, [Alex] Mitola?” asks Fraschilla.
“Is that your boy now?” a fan asks Fraschilla.
“I need him to be,” Fraschilla answers.
“Hey, if he can do it to us, why can’t he do it to them?” another fan says.
Mitola, Dartmouth’s leading scorer, went a perfect 10-for-10 from the line in the final two minutes to give the Big Green a 70-61 win over Harvard on Jan. 24. Everyone, in both gyms, knew he’d be the first option for Dartmouth.
Mitola wasn’t open on the flare screen, but Wright was coming off a pindown and tied the game with a 3-pointer.
With only two seconds remaining, Yale’s Javier Duren was fouled. At this point, Travis, one of two Harvard seniors still in the building, went and sat on the opposing team’s bench, by himself, hunched over, eyes glued to the gamecast app on his phone.
Duren split the pair. Yale is up 58-57.
On the ensuing inbound play, Wright, a former Division I quarterback prospect, heaved a two-handed pass, which is knocked out of bounds by Yale’s Justin Sears. The deflection by Sears puts Dartmouth in an ideal spot, under the Yale hoop with 1.9 seconds left.
Travis heard this, but refused to leave his spot, alone, on the bench.
Gabas Maldunas gave Dartmouth a 59-58 lead with 0.5 seconds to go. Maldunas still had a free throw to shoot, but once Travis realized Dartmouth had taken the lead, he sprinted to half court and jumped into the arms of Chatfield. In that moment of euphoria was a freshman experiencing his first taste of madness with a senior whose hopes of wearing the slipper in March one more time remained alive.
Travis outweighs Chatfield by 40 pounds, so that moment lasted briefly before they both went crashing to the ground. Literally floored by what had just transpired, Travis stared up at the ceiling. Senior forward Charlie Anastasi dove right next to him. Fraschilla jumped on top of him to give him a hug, but Travis’ eyes were still locked on the lights.
“You can only dream about a moment like this coming true,” Travis told NBCSports.com. “If he (Maldunas) wants to come down to Harvard we’ll make sure to throw a big party for him.”
It had been 62 minutes from the time Harvard had won its game until Dartmouth had completed the comeback against Yale. The coaching staff was out of sight shortly after Amaker’s press conference, and many of the players have been out of the arena for more than 30 minutes.
“Let’s go be with everyone,” said Anastasi, referring the senior night reception.
For the remaining members of the Harvard basketball team inside Lavietes Pavilion, it was officially time to party.
But next Saturday, at The Palestra in Philadelphia, the Crimson will find out if it’s time to dance.
Video courtesy of Maureen Anastasi