Yale Bulldogs

Columbia guard Maodo Lo, right, steals the ball from Northwestern forward Aaron Falzon, left, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game on Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, in Evanston, Ill.  (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Ivy League’s best meet in New Haven

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Columbia at Yale, 5:00 p.m.

The two best teams in the Ivy League, with matching 4-0 league records, meet for the first time this season. The Lions were close to suffering their first loss last weekend, but an Alex Rosenberg jumper as time expired gave the Lions the win at reigning champion Harvard. Rosenberg’s one of four players averaging at least 12.2 points per game for Kyle Smith’s team, with senior guard Maodo Lo leading the way at 15.8 per contest.

They’ll face a Yale rotation led offensively by point guard Makai Mason (15.7 ppg, 4.1 apg), and the front court tandem of Justin Sears and Brandon Sherrod has been outstanding. The winner get a leg up in the Ivy race, with the rematch scheduled for March 5 in New York City (regular season finale).

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: Central Michigan at Akron, 8:00 p.m.

Two of the top teams in the Mid-American Conference meet at the JAR, as Akron looks to extend its win streak to six straight. The Zips’ balanced offensive attack has been led by forward Isaiah Johnson (12.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg), who currently leads the team in both scoring and rebounding. As for the visiting Chippewas, guards Braylon Rayson and Chris Fowler combine to average 32.7 points per game, with Fowler also responsible for a MAC-best 6.3 assists per contest. CMU’s had some struggles on the defensive glass in league play, ranking 11th in that category, but they’ve done a better job defensively than they did in non-conference play.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES

  • MAAC leader Monmouth is back in action, as they host a Fairfield team led by one of the conference’s best players in senior forward Marcus Gilbert. The Hawks have a deep lineup led by junior guard Justin Robinson, who at this point in time is the likely frontrunner for MAAC Player of the Year honors.
  • Looking to catch Monmouth is Iona, which is a game behind the Hawks at 9-3. A.J. English and the Gaels visit Canisius in a matchup that should not lack for offense. Iona’s more inclined to run, but Canisius doesn’t lack scorers either with guard Malcolm McMillan leading four players averaging double figures.
  • Given the fact that they’re 1-3 in Ivy League play, Harvard’s essentially in the spoiler role unless some chaos breaks out at the top end of the standings. The Crimson can help in that regard with a win at Princeton, with the Tigers (2-1) a game behind Columbia and Yale in the loss column. Princeton’s been the better offensive team this season, thanks in large part to junior forward Henry Caruso who leads the team in both scoring and rebounding.

 

How Harvard spent 62 minutes waiting on its NCAA Tournament fate

Siyani Chambers, Wesley Saunders (AP Photo)
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Siyani Chambers, Wesley Saunders (AP Photo)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Then this happened:

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.”

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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

Pregame Shootaround: Harvard hosts Yale with first place on the line in the Ivy League

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GAME OF THE DAY: Yale at Harvard, 8:00 p.m. (Ivy League Digital Network)

The Bulldogs and Crimson enter this game tied atop the Ivy League standings with matching 10-2 record, and the winner will be one win away from earning the league’s automatic bid. Harvard won the first meeting between the two, a two-point win in New Haven February 7, with two Wesley Saunders free throws with six seconds remaining being the difference. Two of the Ivy’s best players will be involved, with Saunders leading the Crimson and forward Justin Sears being Yale’s best option. Both teams are solid defensively, but Yale has to shoot better than the 31.5 percent they shot in the first meeting.

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: Bowling Green at Buffalo, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN3)

Seeding in next week’s MAC tournament is still up in the air in many cases, with the Falcons and Bulls looking to improve their standing with a win Friday night. Chris Jans has put together a very successful season in his first year at Bowling Green, and the Falcons have relied on their defense to make that charge. They limited Buffalo to 35.7 percent shooting in the first meeting but still lost by 12 due to their own offensive issues (4-for-20 3PT). It goes without saying that Bowling Green will need to shoot better if they’re to beat a Buffalo squad led by forward Justin Moss and guard Shannon Evans, with those two combining to average just over 30 points per game.

WHO’S ON UPSET ALERT?: Cleveland State (vs. Detroit), 9:30 p.m.

The two meetings between the Vikings and Titans were decided by a total of five points, with CSU winning the first meeting by four and a Juwan Howard Jr. three being the difference in the rematch. Howard Jr. will be the focus of Cleveland State’s defensive efforts, but Paris Bass is capable of putting points on the board as well with his 28-point outing in a loss to Oakland February 15 serving as an example. Cleveland State has three players averaging double figures, with guards Trey Lewis and Charlie Lee leading the way on the perimeter and Anton Grady patrolling the interior.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

1. No, 14 Baylor looks to rebound from a two-point overtime loss to Texas with a win over Texas Tech in the regular season finale for both (9:00 p.m., ESPN2). This game could be tougher than one would anticipate, as the Red Raiders lost by just five in the first meeting February 17.

2. No. 8 Wichita State plays in the first game of the day at Arch Madness in St. Louis, as they take on Southern Illinois (1:00 p.m., ESPN3). The Shockers swept the season series, and they’ve won eight straight since losing at Northern Iowa January 31.

3. Speaking of the Panthers, No. 11 Northern Iowa takes on Bradley in another Arch Madness quarterfinal. The teams last played February 21, when UNI limited the Braves to 39 points in a 17-point home win.

4. No. 25 Murray State takes the court for the first time in this year’s OVC tournament, as they’ll take on Morehead State in the semifinals. Led by guard Cameron Payne, Steve Prohm’s Racers have won 24 straight games and they rolled through league play with a 16-0 record.

5. Kent State can wrap up a share of the MAC East title with a win over Akron (7:00 p.m., ESPN2), and they’ll share the title with the winner of the Bowling Green/Buffalo matchup. Akron won by nine February 10, but the Golden Flashes were playing without their leading scorer and rebounder in Jimmy Hall due to injury.

CONFERENCE TOURNAMENTS

  • Big South (quarterfinals): Longwood vs. Charleston Southern, Radford vs. Winthrop, Gardner-Webb vs. High Point and UNC Asheville vs. Coastal Carolina.
  • Colonial (first round): Towson vs. Elon, College of Charleston vs. Drexel
  • Horizon (second round): UIC vs. Oakland, Detroit vs. Cleveland State
  • Missouri Valley (quarterfinals): Southern Illinois vs. No. 8 Wichita State, Evansville vs. Illinois State, Bradley vs. No. 11 Northern Iowa, Loyola (IL) vs. Indiana State
  • Ohio Valley (semifinals): Morehead State vs. No. 25 Murray State, Belmont vs. Eastern Kentucky
  • Southern (first round): Samford vs. UNCG, Furman vs. The Citadel
  • West Coast (first round): Pacific vs. San Francisco, Loyola Marymount vs. Santa Clara