BOSTON (CBS) – Despite coming off their first NCAA Tournament berth in over 60 years, the expectations for this year’s Harvard Crimson basketball team were low.
They weren’t expected to return to the dance they had missed out on for so long after their top two players left the team this fall after an academic scandal hit the school — known more for producing presidents and Supreme Court justices than athletic talent.
Waking up Friday morning, college basketball fans are probably wishing that was the case.
Led by a close-knit group of younger players and head coach Tommy Amaker, the Harvard Crimson pulled off the biggest upset of Day 1 of the NCAA Tournament, sending the three-seeded New Mexico Lobos home with a 68-62 upset in Salt Lake City Thursday night – the school’s first-ever NCAA Tournament win.
Chances are, they ruined a few brackets along the way as well. But that doesn’t mean anything to the Crimson.
Harvard took care of business Thursday night thanks to some stellar three-point shooting and key performances from underclassmen. Junior Laurent Rivard of Quebec went 5-of-9 from downtown, pouring in 17 points. Sophomore guard Wesley Saunders – a sociology major — put in a team-high 18 points off 5-for-8 shooting and hit clutch free throws down the stretch. Freshman point guard Siyani Chambers, the Ivy League Rookie of the Year and a nominee for the Bob Cousy award, only scored five points but his jumper with 2:18 remaining in the game put the Crimson ahead 63-55 and stomped out any chance at a Lobos comeback.
“Upsets are always supposed to happen, and coach always talked about ‘why not us?’” Chambers said after the game. “We just went out there and did what we knew how to do. We were just ourselves.”
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“It feels very rewarding,” added Chambers. “At the beginning (of the season) everyone doubted us. Our captains and coaching staff pulled us together and told us we could still do this, we just had to believe. Going through all the ups and downs of the season shows that if we stay together and believe in each other that we can do anything. That’s what made this moment right here feel so special to all of us.”
“It’s unbelievable; I’m still in disbelief,” said senior co-captain Christian Webster.” We believed it would happen, but for it to happen is crazy. I’m thankful to move on to the second round and my career to have one more game.”
Webster scored 11 points on 4-for-6 shooting, and went over the 1,000 point mark in the victory,
“Going into the game I knew I was close, but being in the NCAA Tournament I was just so amped to just play, knowing this was a huge stage and everyone was watching,” he said of the milestone. “I was just trying to get out there and play and wasn’t even thinking about the 1,000 points. I think that’s what kind of helped me get it; I wasn’t thinking about it so much.”
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Up next for the Crimson is six-seeded Arizona who dispatched Belmont 81-64 on Thursday. It’s hard to expect another upset for Harvard, but after all they have been through this season, it’s not as wild an expectation as one would think.