The battle for the title of the state of Massachusetts' best team came down to a careless turnover, a pinpoint pass and a clutch shot.
With the score tied and the chance to take perhaps the final shot of regulation, Harvard made a critical error trying to get the ball up court against relentless defensive pressure, stepping on the sideline near midcourt. UMass star Chaz Williams made the Crimson pay for their mistake, using a screen and roll to knife to the basket, force Harvard's defense to collapse and kick out to Sampson Carter for a corner 3-pointer with 1.2 seconds left that gave the Minutemen a 67-64 victory.
Credit Williams for setting up the entire play with his vision and dribble penetration, but the shot from Carter was also impressive. He hadn't scored a point the entire game and he was just 16 of 83 from behind the arc prior to Tuesday's game.
If the old adage is that college students are seldom productive before noon, then this 10 a.m. ET tipoff disproved that. Harvard and UMass staged one of the more entertaining games of the opening week of the season, replete with breakout performances, big shots and plenty of lead changes.
Both the Minutemen and Crimson can take plenty of positives from their performances.
For UMass, this was a RPI-boosting win over an opponent likely to win 20 games and contend in its conference. The Minutemen have issues to clean up in their halfcourt defense, but an aggressive pressure defense and the ability of Williams to create off the dribble give UMass a great chance to finish in the upper echelon of the Atlantic 10 and return to the NCAA tournament.
For Harvard, this was a sign the Ivy League title is still an attainable goal despite the season-long suspensions of senior co-captains Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry. Freshman Siyani Chambers, Curry's replacement at point guard, in particular was marvelous on Tuesday, weathering UMass' pressure to contribute 14 points, seven assists and only one turnover.
Harvard hadn't lost a game against an in-state foe in its last 15 meetings. The Crimson cede the title of the state's best team to UMass for now, but with the wealth of young talent Tommy Amaker has assembled, it may not be long before Harvard wins it back.
(Thanks to @MattNorlander for the video)