That was the greatest finish to a basketball game I have ever seen.
All right, now that I've begun my post with some utterly absurd hyperbole, let me attempt some reasoned analysis. But it's hard to overstate just how incredible senior guard Jeremy Lin's final shot was. With the Crimson down 1 to William & Mary and less than four seconds left in triple overtime, Lin rushed down the court past multiple Tribe defenders and, while being fouled from his left and falling down, heaved up a desperation three from thirty feet out. He had already missed far more makeable game-winners at the end of regulation and the first extra session. He had no business making such a shot. At best, he might have a chance to win it from the line, where he had been solid but inconsistent all night. But up the shot went, and the result was unreal.
Nothing but net. Harvard 87, William & Mary 85.
I fully intend to embellish the legend of The Heave (no one's claimed that, right?) as time passes. For instance, did you know Jeremy Lin was being attacked by a pack of wolves when he put up that shot? It's true. Also, the Harvard victory magically cured all suffering in the world for all time. That's how great this shot was. Or at least, it will be once I'm done telling the story.
But what about the rest of the game, you ask? Well, it's hard not to be bullish about this Crimson team, even if you haven't been driven temporarily insane by broadcasting this triple OT thriller like yours truly. In an effort to bring some semblance of organization to this shambles of a post, I have three main thoughts...
1. The depth of this Crimson team looks to be a huge asset. Tommy Amaker essentially runs his substitutions much like Ted Donato manages his lines for Harvard hockey, completely switching up units and willingly going entirely with reserves for long stretches. The Crimson look to be legitimately 11-deep, and that's not even counting senior guard Dan McGeary, who is on the comeback trail from an injury and looks to rejoin the team in December. Although the second unit lacks a singular impact player like Jeremy Lin, the overall drop-off in ability and execution is surprisingly small. I'd say that the starters for the Tribe were probably marginally better than Harvard's top five, but the fact that the Crimson starters were significantly more rested heading into the marathon extra session made a big difference.
2. In senior Pat Magnarelli and sophomore Keith Wright, the Crimson have a potentially lethal inside presence. Magnarelli had a solid regulation, although Wright was relatively quiet and saw little action in the first forty minutes. However, both kicked their game up several notches in overtime, knocking in clutch baskets under the net, sinking their fair share of free throws, grabbing every available rebound, and unleashing some monster blocks. Perhaps the most impressive stat, however, was their number of fouls: only one for each of them. That's some remarkably clean defense for such physical players, and a good sign that these two are legitimate defensive stoppers.
3. Harvard led by eight at halftime and was able to push the lead to double digits on multiple occasions. William & Mary never led after the first few minutes until deep into double overtime. So why did the Crimson let the Tribe back into this game? It's hard to zero in on any major red flags, but there are some concerns. Harvard was somewhat streaky with its shooting, with sophomore point guard Oliver McNally hitting some big three's to extend their lead. Once those stopped falling, that opened the door for the Tribe. Harvard's offense did seem to lose some of its rhythm as William & Mary tightened up their defense, forcing Jeremy Lin to drive into the paint when no obvious lanes were open. They also committed their fair share of fouls, and the Tribe starters probably outplayed the Crimson reserves for the final stretch that erased their deficit.
All that said, I remain largely optimistic about this Crimson team. On paper, these two teams had about the same overall talent level, and the final score probably does reflect how evenly matched they were. The Crimson are going to need to improve on how they close out games - neither of Jeremy Lin's game-winning attempts at the end of regulation and the first overtime were particularly well-executed, for instance - and they probably can't hope to win every game in such heart-stopping fashion.
But if they do, I won't complain. Especially if I get to do the play-by-play again.