CAMBRIDGE, MA—Even the best-laid plans can come undone. What looked, for almost the entire night, to be a triumphant crowning of Harvard’s second-straight Ivy League championship turned into a last-second 55-54 Quakers upset. The Crimson, having led most of the game, were without an answer for Zack Rosen in the closing minutes, who tallied the Quakers’ final 9 points. With the loss, the University of Pennsylvania snapped a 28-game Harvard home winning streak that dated to February 19th, 2010, and dropped Harvard to 10-2 in Ivy League play.
Much like Friday’s matchup against the Princeton Tigers, Saturday’s started off in the Crimson’s favor. In the first four minutes, Harvard jumped out to a 7-2 advantage before surrendering an 11-2 run to the Quakers. Tyler Bernardini gave Penn its first lead, 11-9, at the 12:39 mark, while sophomore Fran Dougherty’s layup added another pair.
The Quakers, solid for the middle of the 1st, would go on to give up a 10-2 run to end the half. Freshman forward Wesley Saunders drove Harvard through the final four, tipping in his own miss at 3:24 and then nailing a tough layup with 6 seconds left to give the home-standing Crimson a 30-22 lead. With only 4.2 seconds left, however, Harvard would show a momentary lapse in an otherwise stellar final four, allowing Penn guard Miles Cartwright to go the length of the floor for an uncontested layup. Even so, following the buzzer-beater, Harvard headed to the break with a comfortable 6-point cushion.
In the second, it again looked like Harvard might manage—for the first time since Yale—to cruise to a comfortable victory against a highly-touted Ivy opponent. Kyle Casey and Keith Wright combined for 5 of 6 from the line in the first 2 minutes to give Harvard a 35-24 lead, as Penn started to struggle with the foul trouble that would eventually lead Henry Brooks and Steve Rennard to head off with 5.
However, a series of misses and giveaways, starting with a Casey miss at 17:02 and continuing through the 13 minute mark, meant that the Crimson weren’t ever quite able to put the Quakers away. After a McNally free throw put Harvard up 49-40 at 8:10, the Quakers started their final, inexorable ascent. A pair of Brooks buckets at 5:18 and 4:47 brought the Quakers within 5 (51-46). A long-range three from Zack Rosen, in excellent coverage, on the following Penn possession trimmed the difference to two at 4:03.
Try as they might, Harvard was unable to generate a response for Rosen in the final 4 minutes. The senior guard sunk an impossible turnaround jumper in the lane at 1:29 to make it 54-53 Harvard, and then drained a pair of free throws at :23 to take a 55-54 lead.
The Crimson, for what its worth, had their fair share of chances to take the lead in the waning seconds. With 15 left, junior guard Brandyn Curry drove towards the basket from the left side before kicking it out to freshman guard Corbin Miller. Miller, who was wide open on the left wing, narrowly missed the three. Harvard came down the offensive board and quickly called timeout with 5.7 seconds remaining. The inbound went to Kyle Casey, who crashed the net and looked to convert a short layup that would have given Harvard a 56-55 edge. Unfortunately for the Crimson, the goal was whistled down on a charge, giving the Quakers the ball with 3 seconds left. Harvard would fail to foul on the inbound, as Penn ran out the clock to secure a 55-54 upset.
“They’re a good basketball team, and we’ve always had tough games against them,” said Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker in the postgame press conference. “They played exceptionally well and made plays down the stretch.”
Both squads were plagued by turnovers, especially in the first. The bug was particularly pervasive for Harvard in the early minutes, as the Crimson gave the ball away 8 times in 12 minutes of play. Harvard finished with 20 turnovers to Penn’s 16, although the Crimson managed to best Penn in points off turnovers, 20-15.
“I was disappointed in our ability to handle the ball, to be efficient and disciplined,” admitted Amaker. “I’m sure they had a lot to do with that, but I’m sure we could have done more on our part too.”
With the loss, Harvard drops to virtual tie with Penn in the Ivy League standings, at two losses apiece. Harvard does have a game in hand over the Quakers, as Penn has yet to play the Princeton Tigers—their travel partner—for a second time. However, the loss means that Harvard no longer controls its ability to clinch an outright share of the Ivy title. The Crimson will need to win out and have a Penn loss (most likely to either Yale this Saturday or Princeton on Tuesday 3/6) in order to avoid a second consecutive Ivy League tiebreak game.