Harvard beats Cornell 65-56, clinches Ivy titleBy JIMMY GOLEN, AP Sports Writer Saturday, Mar 9, 2013
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP)—Christian Webster and Laurent Rivard huddled over a student reporter’s laptop in the lounge overlooking Harvard’s home court, watching the scoring updates from the Princeton game.
They must have been doing the same thing in the Crimson locker room, based on the cheer for the final score that echoed through the hallway.
“I just feel like the basketball gods have been on our side,” Webster said on Saturday night, when Harvard beat Cornell 65-56 to clinch a share of the Ivy title and then claimed it outright when Brown beat Princeton about a half-hour later.
“Leaving here, knowing that we’re going to the tournament and winning the Ivy League championship outright,” Webster said, “there’s no better feeling for me.”
Rivard scored 17 points and Siyani Chambers added 16 to help Harvard (19-9, 11-3 Ivy) earn its third consecutive Ivy title and second trip to the NCAA tournament in a row. The Ivy League is the only conference that awards its automatic bid to the regular-season champion.
A few dozen fans and parents hung around Harvard’s Lavietes Pavilion after the final buzzer to follow the scoring from Providence. As Brown made just enough free throws down the stretch to extend its lead to 13 points, a cheer arose from the stands and another from the hallway outside the men’s locker room.
Rivard and Webster broke into big smiles and hugged after seeing the 80-67 final that handed the Tigers (16-11, 9-4) their second straight loss and left them 1 1/2 games back with one to play. Coach Tommy Amaker, who asked for frequent updates during his postgame news conference but refused to look at the computer screen, came back in to congratulate his players.
“We always talk about how tough and challenging it is to win on the road in our league,” said Amaker, whose team lost at Princeton and Penn last weekend to hand over the Ivy lead, then got it back when the Tigers lost at Yale and Brown. “We went through this last weekend; Princeton went through it this weekend.”
Miles Asafo-Adjei scored 15 points and Errick Peck had 14 with eight rebounds for Cornell (13-18, 5-9). Nolan Cressler scored 12 points with nine rebounds for Cornell, which finished tied for sixth in the eight-team Ivy League.
The Big Red cut a 15-point lead to seven with 4:27 left, and then made it 59-54 on Peck’s free throws with 2:03 to play. But they could get no closer despite Harvard missing four free throws down the stretch.
Harvard, which had never won an Ivy title in men’s basketball before 2011, tied Princeton and lost a one-game playoff for the automatic bid two years ago. Last year, the Crimson won the league outright and returned to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1946, losing to Vanderbilt 79-70.
The Crimson were expected to be the Ivy favorites again, but their top two players were forced to withdraw from school in September in the wake of an academic cheating scandal that involved as many as 125 students in a single course. Still, even without its senior co-captains, Harvard cruised to the top of the league standings before back-to-back losses at Princeton and Penn last weekend.
The Crimson got back in the race when Yale beat Princeton on Friday night. Brown’s upset left Tigers 1 1/2 games behind with one game to play—the traditional Tuesday night finale against Penn.
“Playing on the road in our league is not easy,” Rivard said. “We were first in our league coming into that weekend. We were disappointed in how we played. … But we never gave up because anything can happen in this league.”
Wesley Saunders missed a pair of free throws, but he sank two when he went back to the line to make it 61-54 with 57 seconds left. When Peck’s layup rolled around the rim and out on Cornell’s next possession, the crowd rose to its feet and stayed there, knowing it was now up to Brown, which was playing Princeton about an hour to the south.
It was 23-all when Harvard scored nine of the last 10 points of the first half. Rivard sank a 3-pointer to make it 30-23. Then, when Peck missed the second of two free throws with 5 seconds left, Kenyatta Smith grabbed the rebound to start the fast break and Chambers banked in a layup at the buzzer to give the Crimson a 32-24 lead.