Updated: 7:40 p.m.
In the game that determined its NCAA tournament fate, the Yale men’s basketball team blew a four-point halftime lead and fell to the Harvard Crimson by a score of 53–51. The loss extends the Bulldogs’ March Madness drought to 53 years and sends the Crimson to its fourth consecutive tournament.
Crimson forward Steve Moundou-Missi knocked down a jumper with 7.2 seconds remaining to give Harvard the lead, and point guard Javier Duren ’15 was unable to hit on a game-tying shot in the game’s final moments.
“We got lucky, to be honest, that [Duren’s shot] didn’t go in,” Moundou-Missi said.
Ultimately, the Bulldogs (22–10, 11–3 Ivy) were felled by a combination of gutsy play from Harvard’s star guard Wesley Saunders and bad luck on several close refereeing calls. Saunders led the game with 22 points, including 18 in the second half, and added four rebounds and four assists to pace the Crimson (22–7, 11–3).
Eli fans will also point to a no-call on an elbow to the head of guard Makai Mason ’18 as a critical tipping point, as Harvard immediately went on a 10–0 run after the play. In addition, controversial continuation and possession on out-of-bounds calls went against the Bulldogs.
Yale, as has been the case all season, was led by its two all-Ivy first teamers. Forward Justin Sears ’16 led the team with 13 points to go with five boards and three steals, and Duren chipped in with 12 points and six rebounds, although he shot just 2–10 from the field.
Harvard jumped out to a dominant 8–0 start in the game’s first four minutes, but the Bulldogs — helped by eight early points from forward Greg Kelley ’15 — opened up a 27–23 lead at the half. However, the Crimson went on an early 13–0 run in the second half to take a 40–32 lead, and it held that lead until a jumper from Mason with 1:47 left. After a three-point play from Saunders, two Duren free throws with 55 seconds remaining tied the contest at 51.
From there, following a missed baseline jumper and a Harvard offensive rebound, Saunders found Moundou-Missi for the go-ahead shot, and Duren’s final attempt — just like the Bulldogs’ tournament hopes — came up short.
At the end of the day, the Bulldogs did not play well enough to overcome their fierce rival. The Elis have relied on their three-point shooting all season, but turned in a mediocre 3–11 performance from deep. That mark included a combined 1–7 from Duren, Mason and guard Jack Montague ’16, the team’s three most prolific regular-season three-point shooters.
Despite the loss, however, players and coaches from both sides seemed to agree that today’s contest, the first Ivy playoff since 2011, had an impact beyond merely selecting a team to represent the Ivy League on a national stage.
“What an afternoon for Ivy League basketball,” Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker said.
After the game, Yale head coach James Jones chipped in with his opinion on a potential Ivy conference tournament. Citing the attendance and passion exhibited in the game as well as in similar games nationwide, Jones displayed his support for any potential tournament format to determine the Ivy’s representative in the Big Dance.
The veteran Duren agreed with Jones’ assessment of the game’s intensity.
“It was really awesome to be a part of this experience,” Duren said. “[It was] probably the most fun game I’ve ever been in.”
As for the future, Jones stated that he expects the Bulldogs to continue onto postseason play, most likely in the National Invitation Tournament, the nation’s second-most prestigious postseason stage.
“I’ll be waiting for the call,” Jones said. “This team deserves it.”
To be certain about its fate, though, Yale must wait until Sunday night. As Jones’ confident words suggest, the Elis seem to be in good position to earn a trip to the NIT as the Ivy regular season co-champion.
Between now and tomorrow night, however, the Bulldogs must wait. Yale finishes the regular season with a 22-10 record.
Correction, March 16: Due to an error on the Yale Athletics website, a previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Steve Moundou-Missi knocked down a jumper with nine seconds remaining. There were, in fact, 7.2 seconds remaining. Furthermore, a previous version of this article stated that the Crimson held their 40–32 lead until two Javier Duren free throws. In fact, it held the lead until a jumper from Makai Mason.