The Crimson were too busy trying to rally in overtime against Cornell to realize their archival Yale had done them a monstrous favor.
They were huddled up during a timeout, chairs stationed on the court away from the stands, when the Yale-Penn score flashed on the scoreboard.
“I didn’t know about it,” Crimson head coach Tommy Amaker said. “I’m glad I didn’t. I didn’t want to be distracted or anything.”
Neither did most of the players in the huddle.
“We weren’t focused on anything but the game,” said sophomore forward Chris Lewis.
A buzzer-beating layup by Yale’s Paul Atkinson stunned Penn and kept Harvard’s hopes of capturing a share of the Ivy League title alive.
All the Crimson had to do was finish off Cornell.
When Seth Towns (a 78.9 percent free throw shooter) went to the line with 5.7 seconds left after crossing up one defender, drawing a foul on another, and knocking down an elbow jumper that tied the game at 87, it seemed as if Harvard was just a foul shot from the win.
But when Towns’s free throw clanged off the rim, the crowd at Lavietes all sighed at once and in a matter of seconds, the Crimson were in a double-overtime duel.
The strange plot twists of the Ivy League’s final weekend didn’t surprise Amaker at all.
“We’ve seen it before,” Amaker said. “And I’ve said it to our kids all week how challenging, wacky, crazy, whatever you want to our league it can be. We’ve seen it can happen to us. We’ve been on both sides of how this works out. But we needed to make sure that we were focused and ready for the challenge in front of us — which we knew would be a challenge they were fighting for their lives to make it to the conference tournament and they played like it.”
Harvard outscored Cornell, 11-1, in double OT to seal its 98-88 win.
Lewis scored a game-high 29 points on 11-of-13 shooting and pulled down seven rebounds. Christian Juzang put in a double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds, knocking down all eight of his free-throw attempts. Seth Towns added another 20 on 7-of-11 shooting.
Sophomore guard Christian Juzang put in a double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds, knocking down all eight free throw attempts. Seth Towns added another 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting.
“In that time, we said, we mentioned, we’re going to keep on playing until we get this win,” Bassey said. “So whatever it takes, we’re going to get this win and put us in position to win the league.”
Going into the final weekend of the regular season the Crimson needed two wins and at least one Penn loss to secure at least a split of their first regular-season Ivy League crown since 2015.
“It’s in our hands to have a chance to be regular season champions,” Amaker said.
Harvard did its part, shooting 52.5 percent as a team and holding the Big Red to 39.4 percent.
The Crimson picked up their seventh win in the past eight games.
Yale, Penn, and Harvard are the only three teams from the inaugural Ivy League tournament to return to the four-team tourney this year.
Bassey didn’t find out until after he walked off the floor when he heard it on the radio.
“I think all of us genuinely believed, if we took care of business this weekend — today and tomorrow — then things would fall into place for us,” Bassey said.
Penn’s loss to Yale kept another — possible more valuable — piece in play for the Crimson. Not only can the Crimson split the regular-season Ivy title, they can go into the conference tournament as the No. 1 seed.
“It’s very important,” Amaker said. “For anyone to be the regular season champions in your conference, you ask anybody in basketball, that’s a tremendous honor. You’ve been the best throughout the course of the season and to be able to call yourselves champions and hang a banner and then we get on to the next thing, which would be the conference tournament. That would be a tremendous honor, one that we’re going to fight very hard to achieve it.Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.