It’s hard to imagine that an overtime victory at home over a four-win team that was a 16-point underdog can snowball into a momentum-building rallying cry as the conference season heats up.
But those fortunate enough to be at Lavietes Pavilion on Saturday afternoon for Harvard’s 82-77 win over Dartmouth won’t be surprised if the Crimson ultimately point to this as a turning point. Because as some players said after the game, they had little business winning.
Down by as many as 13 points in the second half — and still trailing by 10 with 95 seconds left in regulation — Harvard staged a surprising, impressive comeback, outscoring the Big Green, 15-5, down the stretch to force overtime, then getting 20 points in the extra session. Counting overtime, Harvard scored 35 points in the final 6:32.
“Crazy. We got really lucky. They lost the game, but credit to us, too, because we made some plays in the end to get the game,” said guard Christian Webster, Harvard’s lone senior. “We really stole one.”
If not for Webster, Dartmouth (4-12, 0-2 Ivy League) would have boarded the bus and headed home to Hanover, N.H., with its first win in eight tries against Harvard, a streak that dates to Jan. 24, 2009, before any player on either side was in a college uniform.
Webster scored just 13 points, but 9 came during a one-minute span late in the second half to give Harvard a chance. His 3-pointer from the left wing brought the Crimson within 57-50 with 1:32 left. Another 3-pointer, on a set play from the right wing with 39.8 seconds left, cut Dartmouth’s lead to 60-57. After two made free throws by Malik Gill, Webster struck again — same play, same location — with 30.1 seconds remaining to make the score 62-60.
Harvard (10-6, 2-0) was clutch late in the game, but also benefited from Dartmouth mistakes. The Big Green fouled Harvard’s best free throw shooter on a 3-point attempt with 1:11 remaining, and missed four late free throws, none bigger than the pair by John Golden with 28.8 seconds left and Dartmouth clinging to the 2-point lead.
After gaining possession off the second miss, freshman point guard Siyani Chambers made a move on Gill at the top of the key and blew past him for the tying layup with 16.8 seconds left, the first time the game had been all square since 2-2.
Overtime provided five more minutes, but the momentum was clearly in Harvard’s corner.
“We had to do things right, things that we practiced, and our kids believed in it,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “We got to the overtime, which was an incredible shot in the arm for our team to be in that position. We had the confidence as the game went down the stretch to pull through.”
The extra session was all Crimson. Laurent Rivard missed all six of his field goal attempts in regulation, but drilled an open 3-pointer — his only basket — on Harvard’s initial possession for a 65-62 lead, its first since the game’s opening basket.
Wesley Saunders added a spinning layup on the next Crimson trip, and a free throw by Chambers pushed the lead to 68-62. On the defensive end, Harvard stopped Dartmouth on its first four overtime possessions.
Harvard made 12 of its final 13 free throws to seal a most improbable win.
“When Christian hit the first three [with 1:32 left, cutting the Dartmouth lead to 7], I thought we had a chance. When he hit the second one I thought, we’re right there, we can do this,” said Saunders, who scored 18 of his 20 points after halftime. “We definitely know we did not play the way we wanted to for the majority of the game, but happy we were able to come together and figure out a way to win.”
Figuring out a way to win is what Dartmouth coach Paul Cormier is trying to instill in his young team (three sophomores, two freshmen in the starting lineup). He’ll have a painful tape to show them now.
“That was one of the toughest losses. When you’re trying to build a program, you need that signature win, something really good to happen to you,” said Cormier, whose Big Green also led Harvard late two weeks ago in the Ivy opener for both before losing, 75-65. “We played well enough for that to happen, but Harvard, to their credit, stuck around, and took advantage of us missing some opportunities and some free throws. You have to give them credit, that’s why they’re a good team.”Michael Whitmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.