Just across the halfcourt line, Siyani Chambers dribbled the ball casually, switching from one hand to the other, waiting for the clock to drain to all zeros.
Once it did, he tossed to ball to an official on the other side of the court, walked toward the Harvard bench, took a deep breath, and clasped his hands together, thankful that the Crimson were able to walk off the floor at Case Gymnasium with a 79-68 overtime win over Boston University.
“It was a relief,” Chambers said. “Because we thought we lost it for a second.”
With six minutes left in the second half, holding a 10-point lead, the Crimson (9-1) didn’t anticipate being in a game that would involve praying.
Even with a 7-point lead with less than a minute left, it felt like Harvard was in complete control.
But in the final 50.7 seconds, it turned into a jailbreak for BU (6-3).
John Papale, a marksman who had been struggling all season to find the bull’s-eye, got some help from the backboard on a straightaway 3-pointer to cut the Crimson’s lead to 65-61.
Harvard coach Tommy Amaker called a 30-second timeout to settle things down. Papale was shooting only 23 percent from deep, but Amaker didn’t want this to be the moment he shook his slump.
“He was a point of emphasis for us, to see if we could not let him loose, not give him open looks,” Amaker said.
But after the timeout things only got more hectic.
Terriers guard Maurice Watson Jr. plucked the ball from Kyle Casey in the backcourt, then started scanning the court for the first 3-point shooter he could find.
Watson found Papale along the wing by himself. Papale saw Travis Robinson even more open in the corner so he made the extra pass.
Robinson couldn’t knock down the three, but Papale chased down the rebound and got it back to Watson, who again looked along the 3-point line for shooters. And there was Papale in the corner.
Watson found just enough room to fling an overhead pass to Papale, who drilled another trey to make it 65-64 with 27 seconds left.
BU smothered Harvard on the inbounds pass, the press so stifling that Chambers had to call a timeout to avoid a 10-second violation.
BU was just as relentless with its press on the next inbounds attempt, but Harvard broke it and guard Laurent Rivard found forward Steve Moundou-Missi under the basket for what looked to be an easy layup.
But after the Terriers had done so much to claw back, guard D.J. Irving wasn’t about to give up an easy layup. He hit Moundou-Missi with a hard foul, hard enough to get the layup to roll off the rim.
Moundou-Missi missed the second of two free throws, Terriers forward Travis Robinson came down with the rebound, and he got it to Watson, who rushed upcourt with his eyes on the rim the whole way.
Watson lofted a shot high off the glass, and it took a few excruciating bounces on the rim before falling in and tying the game at 66 with eight seconds left.
The Terriers then dodged a pair of bullets —
“Very crazy,” said Watson (14 points, eight assists). “Heart racing the entire time. That’s just the staple of our team this year. How we were last year, we’d get down 6 with a minute left, we’d just kind of give up. But now, we stick together better when things are tougher. We’re just in the huddle, like, ‘Listen, it’s not over.’ ”
Harvard had given the Terriers 11 points off of turnovers, 12 points on second chances, 14 points on the break, and 19 points off the bench, led by Malik Thompson (9 points).
More than that, over the last 11 minutes of the second half, the Terriers had managed to mute Saunders.
“He’s a kid that you’re not stopping him,” said Terriers coach Joe Jones. “You just hope that if he takes 24 shots, he makes six or seven, but you’re not stopping him.”
BU could only bottle him up for so long. Saunders scored 7 of his game-high 25 points in overtime, and the Crimson put the game away for good.
It was Harvard’s fifth straight win in the series, and Terriers senior forward Dom Morris has been there for the last four.
He summed up the loss in one word. “Hurt.”
“I felt like we were the better team,” Morris said. “They just got the best of us today.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.