No. 12 Harvard’s star point guard Siyani Chambers was just 2-for-10 from the floor, but he hit the biggest shot of the game, a 16-foot pull-up with just under two minutes left to end a No. 5 Cincinnati run and spur a 61-55 win.
Harvard was up by as many as nine points in the second half, but the Bearcats cut the lead to 54-53 before the jumper from Chambers. He finished with 11 points and just two turnovers against a relentless Cincinnati press, hitting three free throws in the final second to help ice the game.
Defense is what won this game for Harvard. Wesley Saunders, the Ivy League Player of the Year, did a great job slowing down Sean Kilpatrick. The first team all-american got a couple of easy looks from beyond the arc early in the first half, but he finished the afternoon with just 18 points on 6-for-13 shooting, turning the ball over five times and only making four trips to the charity stripe.
The Crimson also did an excellent job on the interior against Justin Jackson, who just could not seem to get a shot around the rim to drop. Jackson finished with 13 points, 10 boards (four offensive) and four blocks, but he was 5-for-15 from the field, the majority of those misses coming from point blank range.
For Harvard, this is the second straight season that they have won a game in the NCAA tournament. Last season, No. 14 Harvard knocked off No. 3 New Mexico. The last time a team from the Ivy League accomplished that feat was back in 1983-84, when Princeton won a pair of games.
But here’s the thing to remember: this isn’t a shocker.
Harvard was the most popular upset pick of the Round of 64, and that’s because the Crimson have as much talent, as much size and as much athleticism as just about any high-major program in the country. This program is recruiting top 100 players. They are landing guys that typically ended up at places like Stanford or Vanderbilt. They are pulling players out of places like Minnesota and California.
So while it is going to be easy to point and laugh at Cincinnati, to crack jokes about how bad the AAC is because it can’t beat an Ivy League team, remember that this Harvard team would have finished, at worst, sixth in the AAC.
The best part?
Most of those guys will be back next season.
The Crimson are almost at a point where they belong in the same conversation as Gonzaga and Wichita State when it comes to the nation’s best mid-major programs.
Harvard will face the winner of No. 4 Michigan State and No. 13 Delaware.