Harvard, Yale to play tiebreaker for NCAA berth
Mar. 14, 2015
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) — The tie was, in fact, so one-sided that The Harvard Crimson declared victory.
"Harvard Beats Yale 29-29," the school newspaper trumpeted, and few Yalies would disagree that, despite the score, they lost the 1968 football season finale.
Lost their perfect season. Lost bragging rights over their longtime rival. And, most immediately, lost a 16-point lead in the final 2 minutes to allow Harvard to claim the tie and a share of the Ivy League championship.
Nearly a half-century later, Harvard (21-7, 11-3 Ivy) and Yale (22-9, 11-3) are tied again — this time for the conference basketball title. And this time they will break the tie Saturday with a one-game playoff for the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
"Everything Harvard and Yale is special," Bulldogs coach James Jones said. "Any time Harvard goes against Yale in any sport, it's going to be different than any other team you're playing.
"Certainly," he said, "this is."
Two of the oldest and most prestigious academic institutions in the nation, Harvard and Yale have a rivalry that has seethed for centuries not just on athletic fields but in classrooms, Nobel Prize ceremonies and presidential elections. But while their annual football matchup — loftily dubbed "The Game" — is the focal point of the season, the basketball teams have never played for much at all.
That changed last Friday when Yale came to Harvard's Lavietes Pavillion on the final weekend of the regular season, with each team standing 10-2 in the conference. The Bulldogs won 62-52 to clinch no worse than a share of the Ivy title — their first since 2002 — and needed only to beat Dartmouth the next night to earn their first NCAA berth since 1962.
Having lost to Yale, Harvard beat Brown to finish its season but could only hope for a Yale loss in Hanover, New Hampshire. The Bulldogs led Dartmouth by 10 points in the first half and by five with 28 seconds left, but a last-second layup by Gabas Maldunas' layup gave the Big Green a 59-58 win.
"It's just been crazy the emotions we've been going through," Harvard forward Jonah Travis said after the team practiced on its home court in preparation for Saturday's game at the Palestra in Philadelphia. "We've been given a second chance most people in the world aren't given."
The regular-season matchup was already the most consequential basketball game Harvard and Yale had ever played, and now they meet in a rematch with the conference's tournament berth at stake. The Ivy League is the only conference in the nation that does not have a postseason tournament, instead awarding its automatic bid to the regular-season champion.
"I wish we had won Friday and we wouldn't have to have this," said Harvard coach Tommy Amaker, who has led the school to a share of five straight Ivy League titles. "You just know these games are nail-biters. You hope your kids are up for that."
Amaker's kids have shown they are.
The Crimson have not only reached the NCAA Tournament three years in a row — they lost a one-game playoff with Princeton in 2011 and didn't get the bid — but they advanced in each of the last two. Harvard started this year ranked No. 25 in The Associated Press poll.
That's helped the Crimson supplant longtime Ivy powers Princeton and Penn atop the conference standings. In the past two years, Yale has joined them there to foster a rivalry worthy of its football counterpart.
"That's' something that you're kind of introduced to your first days at Yale. You know, 'We don't like Harvard,'" Yale guard Javier Duren said. "Given their success he past few years, it makes those games that much more special."
Said Jones: "This is why you play. If you're going to shy away from this game, you've got to do something else. I wish I could lace them up. Every player I've ever had wishes they could lace them up in a game like this."
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