SALT LAKE CITY — From his courtside seat at EnergySolutions Arena, Arizona coach Sean Miller said one thing jumped out at him as he scouted Harvard in its 68-62 upset over New Mexico Thursday night.
It was the spirited low-post play the Crimson got from 6-foot-8-inch sophomore Kenyatta Smith (10 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocked shots) and reserve 6-7 sophomore forward Steve Moundou-Missi (5 points, 4 rebounds, 1 block), who fully engaged the Lobos’ oversized frontcourt before fouling out late in the second half.
“Harvard’s big guys are somewhat misrepresented,’’ Miller said. “To me, they’re more physical; they scored on their own end and did a really good job with very little help. It wasn’t as if they were trapping the post, playing zone, sagging off a player. They played New Mexico’s frontcourt guys heads-up, and they did a really nice job.’’
Even though he departed after picking up his fourth foul with 15:29 to go, Smith did not shrink from the task when he returned with 6:58 left. “As soon as I came back in the game, the coaches just told me one word: ‘Fight,’ ” Smith said. “They told me to fight and to play like I had no fouls. You can’t play scared and you definitely can’t do that against a team like New Mexico.’’
Smith went down swinging, ripping down a rebound after Tony Snell missed a 3-pointer and knocking down a jumper that gave Harvard a 59-53 lead, then coming up with a block of a Kendall Williams layup attempt with 4:23 to go. Smith added a pair of clutch foul shots with 3:03 to go to expand Harvard’s lead to 61-55, and picked up another defensive rebound before fouling out with 49 seconds remaining.
“You look at our guys that are playing the bulk of the minutes for us [inside]; they’re big and they’re sophomores,’’ said Harvard coach Tommy Amaker. “As the game went on you could see the confidence growing in our young big guys.”
It was personal
Harvard’s victory enabled captains Laurent Rivard and Christian Webster to achieve personal scoring milestones.
Rivard, a 3-point specialist from Saint-Bruno, Quebec, set the school’s record for 3-pointers in a season, hitting all five of his nine field goal attempts from beyond the arc. It gave him 79 for the season.
“It’s a cool thing,’’ Rivard said. “But, you know, what’s sweeter is winning as a team and advancing in the NCAA Tournament.’’
Webster, meanwhile, chipped in 11 points to go over 1,000 for his career (1,008). But like Rivard, Webster said the victory superseded personal glory.
“This right here is the No. 1 moment in my basketball career by far,’’ he said. “I’m just happy to be moving on to [the next] round.’’
While Harvard is carrying the banner as the only New England team in the NCAA Tournament, Kaleb Tarczewski, a 7-foot, 255-pound freshman center from Claremont, N.H., who is averaging 6.6 points and 6.1 rebounds, is the only New Englander on Arizona’s roster. “It’s really exciting to see them advance,’’ said the ex-St. Mark’s standout of Harvard. “A few kids on their team I actually played with or against in high school.’’ Tarczewski played on the same AAU team as Harvard’s Evan Cummins and competed against Rivard, who played at Northfield Mount Hermon. “It’s going to be exciting to play against them, and kind of see them again,’’ Tarczewski said. “But when we’re on the court, it’s going to be a battle and we’re excited for that.’’ . . . Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, whose Blue Devils advanced with an 73-61 victory over Albany on Friday, was a bit bleary after staying up late to watch Harvard’s victory. “I fell asleep at halftime,’’ Krzyzewski said. “So don’t let Amaker think I was letting him down. But when I woke up — I didn’t turn off the game, let’s put it that way — when I woke up, they had the lead and then I stayed up. I thought it was an unbelievably well-played game by both teams.’’
Julian Benbow of the Globe staff contributed to this report from Philadelphia. Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.