By Harry Allison
It wasn’t Villanova-St. Joseph’s in a bomb scare game or Penn beating Princeton with Bill Bradley. Or even a Philly high school championship game.
But those games had nothing on Saturday’s Ivy League playoff between Harvard and Yale at Penn’s old barn of a basketball court, the Palestra.
Steve Moundou-Missi hit a 15-foot jumper with 7.2 seconds left, Wesley Saunders (photo above) scored 18 of his 22 points in the second half and Harvard beat Yale 53-51 on Saturday in an Ivy League playoff for its fourth straight NCAA berth.
”As a senior class, we talked about what we want our legacy to be,” Saunders said. ”We wanted to cement our legacy and come out with a victory.”
With less than a minute to play, Saunders kept possession for Harvard (22-7) on Moundou-Missi’s miss by hustling for an offensive rebound. Saunders then set up the go-ahead basket by driving to the lane, drawing multiple defenders and kicking it out to Moundou-Missi on the perimeter.
”He made the entire play,” Moundou-Missi said. ”I was wide open. All I had to do was make the shot.”
Added Saunders: ”I trust Steve to knock down that shot more than I trust myself maybe.”
Justin Sears scored 13 points andJavier Duren had 12 for Yale (22-10), including two free throws that tied it at 51 with 54.6 seconds left. The Bulldogs missed out on their first NCAA appearance since 1962.
Duren missed a running layup at the buzzer as Harvard fans rushed the floor at the Palestra.
”I thought it was in,” Duren said. ”The ball took a crazy bounce. In a situation like that, it’s hard to get a better look.”
Yale and Harvard shared the Ivy League title with 11-3 records to set up the playoff to determine the conference’s automatic NCAA bid. The Ivy is the only Division I league without a conference tournament.
After Yale took a five-point lead – matching its largest of the day – with 14:50 left, Saunders scored nine straight points on a three-point play and consecutive 3-pointers to give the Crimson a 36-32 lead.
Saunders, the 2013-14 Ivy League Player of the Year, helped the Crimson extend their lead to 40-32 and then 46-37 with 6:10 left after two more quick jumpers.
But the Bulldogs fought all the way back to take a 49-48 lead with 1:40 remaining when Makai Mason collected a loose ball on the scramble for an offensive rebound and hit a jumper in the lane.
With Harvard trailing by one, Saunders hit a driving layup and was fouled, completing a three-point play to give the Crimson a 51-49 lead with 1:27 left.
Saunders passed former Harvard star Jeremy Lin to become the school’s fourth all-time leading scorer – and then drew comparisons to the Los Angeles Lakers guard after the game.
Yale beat Harvard last Friday to clinch at least a share of its first league crown since 2002. But with a chance to secure the outright championship and the automatic NCAA berth, the Bulldogs were upset by Dartmouth in the regular-season finale the following night.
Before the game, both teams were presented with Ivy League championship trophies to hearty cheers from their own fans and lusty boos from the other side.
Harvard played the part of the more postseason-savvy team early on, jumping out to an 8-0 led before Yale made its first bucket five minutes into the contest. But the Bulldogs fought back and took a 14-11 lead on a Mason floater midway through the first half.
Sears, this season’s Ivy League Player of the Year, scored eight points in the final eight minutes of the first half to help the Bulldogs take a 27-23 lead into halftime. Yale shot 52.4 percent from the floor before the break.