Boston Colleges: Ivy

Rapid Reaction: Harvard 31, Yale 24

November, 22, 2014
11/22/14
3:59
PM ET
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Harvard beat Yale 31-24 in a bone-chilling and thrilling edition of The Game.

How it happened: After a mistake-filled first half, the Crimson took control in the third quarter with three touchdowns scored in three very different ways.

One came on a 1-yard plunge by Paul Stanton Jr. after a 10-play, 58-yard drive. The next came on a trick play, with Seitu Smith II taking a handoff from Stanton on a reverse, running right across the formation and throwing deep for Andrew Fischer for a 40-yard TD. And the third, which had the Harvard sideline literally leaping for joy, came when Connor Sheehan stepped in front of a Morgan Roberts pass, ripped it away from the intended receiver and ran it back 90 yards for a TD.

Just like that, the Crimson went from up 17-7 with Yale threatening to answer a score with a score to up 24-7 and in complete control.

At least, that’s how it seemed at the time. Yale answered with two quick TDs and cut the Harvard lead to three with 8:21 to play. But after a Stanton fumble led to a tie when Kyle Cazzetta hit a 33-yard field goal, the Crimson didn’t waver.

Harvard marched upfield, Hempel connecting through the air and Stanton converting a key third-and-3. Then Hempel found Fischer with a step on his defender, running down the right sideline. The pass hit him perfectly, and Fischer sprinted into the end zone for a 35-yard touchdown with just 55 seconds remaining to give Harvard a 31-24 lead.

Roberts drove the Bulldogs to the Harvard 26-yard line with 20 seconds to play, but Zach Hodges got a sack and Roberts was intercepted to seal the win for the Crimson.

What it means: The Crimson weren’t the only ones carrying a streak into The Game on Saturday.

ESPN “College GameDay” analyst Lee Corso -- who always picks a winner for the game the show broadcasts from -- hadn’t gotten a pick wrong on any of the show’s previous six FCS broadcasts, including picking against Harvard in the school’s only other appearance on the national pregame show in 2002.

But by picking the Bulldogs before the 131st meeting between the teams, Corso ended up on the wrong side of history for the first time.

Harvard improves its win streak over Yale to eight straight. The win caps Harvard’s first perfect, 10-0 season in 10 years and clinches the outright Ivy League title.

Up next: The offseason. Because the Ivy League doesn’t participate in the playoff system that ends the Football Championship Subdivision season, that’s all she wrote on the 2014 season for Harvard and Yale.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Ryan Fitzpatrick reminisces about Harvard-Yale

November, 21, 2014
11/21/14
8:00
AM ET
It’s a good news, bad news situation for Ryan Fitzpatrick this week.

“Fortunately, I’m still playing in the NFL,” the Houston Texans’ backup QB said by phone this week. “Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make it back for The Game.”

It’s been 10 years since Fitzpatrick led Harvard to a perfect 10-0 season in 2004, and the well-traveled signal-caller has been able to make it back to campus for only one Harvard-Yale matchup since.

[+] EnlargeRyan Fitzpatrick
AP Photo/Lisa PooleRyan Fitzpatrick led Harvard to a perfect 10-0 in 2004.
And while he’s glad he’s been able to play as many years in the NFL as he has, with the St. Louis Rams, Cincinnati Bengals, Buffalo Bills, Tennessee Titans and now the Texans, he misses the atmosphere and the buzz that accompanies the yearly season-ending matchup with the Bulldogs.

“It’s a lot different,” he said. “The fact that the stadium’s gonna be sold out and packed, and there’s so much history surrounding the game [makes it special].”

The Crimson are ranked No. 14 in the FCS coaches poll and No. 15 in The Sports Network poll, they’ve already clinched at least a share of the school’s 16th Ivy League title and at 9-0 (6-0 Ivy) are seeking the 17th perfect season in school history. But that’s not all that’s on the line, as 8-1 Yale can clinch a share of the Ivy League title with a win.

If Harvard wins, it takes the title outright.

And add to that the national spotlight that descended on campus when ESPN’s “College GameDay” announced it will broadcast its Emmy-winning pregame show from the Dillon Quad and The Game may never have been bigger.

“I think that’s awesome,” Fitzpatrick said of “GameDay” coming to Cambridge. “Obviously it’s a big game for a lot of reasons, because of the history and because both teams are the class of the Ivy League. That only adds to it.”

Corey Mazza was a wide receiver on the 2004 undefeated Crimson team. He remembers watching the first “GameDay” trip to the FCS level, to Penn for Crimson-Quakers in 2002.

“I remember watching that and thinking how cool it was and hoping that, you know, they’d come back again while I was playing [at Harvard,]” he said. “Obviously there’s a lot of great rivalry weeks the week we play Yale, for these guys to have this opportunity, I’m excited for them. I’m excited as a fan.”

After graduating, Mazza played a year of professional football in Italy for the Parma Panthers before joining the Marines and leading a platoon in Afghanistan. These days, he’s working toward an MBA at the University of Texas’ McCombs School of Business.

He and his wife, Kathryn, will put a Harvard jersey on their son, 10-month-old Caleb, and sit down Saturday to watch The Game (12:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network).

“I think every single one of us on the field in the Ivy League wishes they could play in front of 100,000 people every home game,” Mazza said. “That said, to play in a game when the alumni from both schools take it so seriously, you feel the importance from the first day of the week. All the way up. Kinda like a slow build.

“Getting the opportunity to play a game that’s kinda like the culmination of the season, the culmination of your career it’s really special because that last game is against your biggest rival in front of the biggest crowd you’ve ever played in front of.”

Fitzpatrick’s played in front of bigger crowds since, but that doesn’t diminish the hold The Game has on him.

“It’s probably the last competitive football you’ll play in your life,” he said. “It means a lot to all of us, the fact your whole football career has led up to this moment.”

Perhaps surprisingly, Fitzpatrick’s favorite moment from The Game wasn’t of the 2004 capper to the undefeated season. It was his sophomore year, when he came into the game off the bench on a windy day and used his legs to help the Crimson to a win.

And once the game was in hand, senior Neil Rose went back in at quarterback to finish it off.

“To be able to go in and help get the team a win and then send him in to take a knee,” Fitzpatrick said, “to be able to contribute to that was pretty cool.”

What memories will be made on the field in Harvard Stadium on Saturday? No one knows. But one thing’s for sure: Whatever happens, it’ll be remembered.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Harvard-Yale: The Game gets a little bigger

November, 21, 2014
11/21/14
5:00
AM ET
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Obum Obukwelu has seen some big games at Harvard, not only during his four years playing for the Crimson but when his older brothers Iffi and Nnamdi played for the team in the years that preceded his arrival.

But even he hasn’t seen The Game like this.

[+] EnlargeObum Obukwelu
AP Photo/Gregory PayanHarvard DT Obum Obukwelu, shown making a tackle against Princeton in October, says of Yale, "They're 8-1, we're 9-0, playing for a title. It doesn't get much bigger than that."
“For sure, it’s the biggest game I’ve seen against Yale,” he said after practice Wednesday evening at Harvard Stadium. “My brothers went here, the games they played against Yale weren’t of this magnitude. They’re 8-1, we’re 9-0, playing for a title. It doesn’t get much bigger than that.

“And with all the ESPN ‘College GameDay’ stuff, it just hypes it up even more.”

Yes, the “College GameDay” crew of Chris Fowler, Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit will be on site on Friday and Saturday, only the second time in the show’s 28-year history that it has graced a Harvard game with its presence.

Obukwelu, a 6-foot-2, 275-pound defensive tackle from Brockton, Massachusetts, and a BC High grad, is excited that “GameDay” is coming to town.

“I love it. I mean, I think it’s about time,” he said. “Ivy League football is not a joke. We’ve got a bunch of top teams in this league and we show we can compete at a high level.”

And while the spotlight “GameDay” coming to the Dillon Quad, just outside Harvard Stadium, trains on The Game is nice, the Crimson have on their minds set firmly on the field Saturday (12:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network).

“It’s just more hype,” senior captain Norman Hayes said. “It’s an awesome experience for us, but we’ve kinda agreed that all of this is for everybody else. We’re here for one reason, and that’s to make sure we finish the season right by beating Yale.”

At 9-0 (6-0 Ivy), Harvard is seeking the 17th perfect season in school history. The Crimson are ranked No. 14 in the FCS coaches poll and No. 15 in The Sports Network poll.

With a win, the Crimson clinch the title outright. A loss gives a share to the Bulldogs.

“I’ll be honest with you, the plan was to clinch this thing, clinch this championship down against Penn [last week] because that way you can come into the Yale game and play fast, play loose and feel like you’re playing with house money,” longtime Crimson coach Tim Murphy said. “But by the same token, at the end of the day this is always about pride. There’s still a lot left on the table: the chance at an outright championship, the chance at potentially maybe the only perfect Division I season in the country, the way things are going.

“But the most important thing is just pride. This game is one of those games where you don’t necessarily have to motivate your team -- not that you don’t, you do. But the kids understand. It’s a game they’ll remember for the rest of their life.”

Because of the way things match up, it’s also likely to be a special game on the field.

Led by all-time Crimson sack leader Zack Hodges, Harvard comes into the game with the best defense in the FCS, averaging 11.0 points per game allowed. And wouldn’t you know it, Yale comes into the game with the FCS’ No. 4 offense, averaging 43.0 points per game.

“Their offense is as strong as it’s ever been this year,” Hayes, a defensive back, said. “They have a really good quarterback, they’ve got a very explosive running back who can do any and everything. Deon Randall, the captain, is a phenomenal athlete at the slot receiver position. He makes all types of things happen. So we’re on our toes every single play on defense.”

[+] EnlargeTim Murphy
AP Photo/Gregory PayanHarvard coach Tim Murphy says Yale is "by far the best team we've played this year."
Murphy, who’s in his 21st year as Harvard coach, underwent triple-bypass surgery in February. Since returning to the job, which he’s said he never considered leaving, the Kingston, Massachusetts, native has delegated more.

But the coach says he still only knows how to work “100 miles an hour, with my hair on fire.”

“I don’t know about more rewarding, but I’m grateful,” he said when asked if his health scare makes this season mean more to him. “Like anything else in life, when you go through a difficult time or a health issue it just puts things in clearer perspective. As I’ve said, your family, your friends and your health clearly become the most important things in life.

“But I also realized how much I love coaching, how much I particularly love coaching these kids at this school.”

Murphy said the Crimson know Yale will be “by far the best team we’ve played this year.”

“They know this will be a huge challenge,” he said, “and therefore it takes a big game and makes it an even better game.”

It’s the 27th time The Game has been played for a share of the title, with Harvard 14-11-1 in the previous 26. Yale owns the overall series edge 65-57-8, but Harvard is 12-1 in the past 13 meetings and has won seven straight.

You can guess what the Crimson’s 21 seniors want more than anything else from the 131st meeting of Harvard and Yale.

“It’s all type of excitement,” Hayes said. “It’s a very emotional week for the seniors, but we’re all still eyes on the prize. We have one last piece of business to take care of, to make sure we end the season right against Yale.”

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Harvard hoops preview: No. 25 Crimson ready for their encore

November, 13, 2014
11/13/14
3:44
PM ET
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- The evolution is plain to see.

Lavietes Pavilion was at maybe two-thirds capacity, the student section full and ready to go ... in mid-October. For a 20-minute scrimmage, plus dunk and 3-point shooting contests.

[+] EnlargeTommy Amaker and Siyani Chambers
Harry How/Getty ImagesSiyani Chambers, Tommy Amaker and the Crimson are favorites to hang a fifth straight Ivy League banner ... but they have higher aspirations.
“I’m proud of having this crowd, because I would say six or seven years ago if you had this event I don’t think you would see many students,” Harvard senior Steve Moundou-Missi said after the fourth annual Crimson Madness event on a Friday night in October. “That’s one aspect of it, bringing more people to games, students especially.”

There’s no doubt Tommy Amaker has done that -- after decades as an Ivy League also-ran and an afterthought on the Harvard campus, the Crimson have sold out 23 games at Lavietes since 2010-11. Everyone loves a winner, and after nearly a century of losing Harvard has had one the past few seasons.

“The program’s definitely grown,” junior Siyani Chambers said after Crimson Madness. “Even if you just look at this event. The first time I was here as a freshman, it was a small event. Now we’re getting close to a full crowd. That just shows that our program is growing and the fan base is growing.

“We love that the fans are coming out and supporting us and showing that they believe in us.”

They finally have something to believe in.

When Amaker arrived in Cambridge, there were 11 Ivy championship banners hanging in Lavietes. None of them belonged to the men’s team.

Seven years later, the gap has closed slightly -- there are now four banners for the men. And the Crimson are a unanimous choice to hang a fifth straight banner, picked to win the Ivy League again in 2014-15 and return to the NCAA tournament for the fourth straight season.

That’s not all.

With most of the talented core of last season’s NCAA tournament team back -- including Ivy Player of the Year Wesley Saunders, point guard Chambers and big man Moundou-Missi -- Harvard became the first Ivy team to be voted to the preseason AP Top 25 in decades, coming in at No. 25 (tied with Utah).

(Read full post)

Harvard picked to win Ivy League again

October, 23, 2014
10/23/14
9:27
PM ET
BOSTON -- The Harvard Crimson would never admit it, but they're getting used to dealing with raised expectations.

Around Tommy Amaker's team, that word -- "expectations" -- might as well be an expletive in a children's book. It doesn't belong there.

[+] EnlargeTommy Amaker and Siyani Chambers
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsPG Siyani Chambers and coach Tommy Amaker hope to build on Harvard's recent run of success.
So don't ask the coach or the new co-captains about how being a unanimous pick to win the Ivy League for the second straight season increases expectations for the reigning Ancient Eight champs. Don’t ask about how being picked to finish first for the third time in four seasons, after the Crimson were also picked first on 16 of 17 ballots in 2011-12, increases the size of the target the program will be wearing all season.

Just know that this is no surprise in Cambridge, where 14 letter winners (including seven seniors) return from last season's team. Where 20-win seasons have become commonplace (five straight), and they've started flirting with the idea of a 30-win campaign -- going 27-5 overall and 13-1 in Ivy play in 2013-14 to set new marks for wins yet again.

“There’s good and bad with a lot of those kinds of things,” Amaker said Wednesday morning at TD Garden for Coaches vs. Cancer tripleheader media day. “We’ve been a team that has really honed in on our internal mechanisms -- our goals, our identity and our standards. Those are the three areas that have mattered the most to us. There are times when we haven’t been picked to be whatever and there are times when we have, but we’ve tried to eliminate whatever is on the outside.

“Is it flattering? Yes, it is, given that we recognize and we know how tough and challenging our league has been and will be again this year. So to be thought of as in that position is incredibly flattering.”

The Crimson lost a lot to graduation, including Kyle Casey, Brandyn Curry and sharpshooter (and two-time co-captain) Laurent Rivard. But they still have Siyani Chambers, Steve Moundou-Missi, Kenyatta Smith and Wesley Saunders (the Ivy Player of the Year in 2013-14).

Chambers and Moundou-Missi were elected co-captains this season, which came as no surprise to Amaker. Chambers has been a leader since the day he set foot on campus, and Moundou-Missi is a strong presence even if he’s not the loudest voice around.

“It’s a great honor,” Chambers said. “The guys selected me to be a captain this year, and I give them a lot of credit for choosing me to be their leader. It shows that they put a lot of pressure on me but also [that] they feel I’m a good leader -- me and Steve both.

“I just hope to follow in the footsteps of the past captains that we’ve had.”

The point guard will follow those footsteps in the sand, for sure, but you can also bet he won’t stop just because they come to an end. He’ll keep going, keep pushing this team forward onto new ground.

“I think there’s always a little pressure to try to go out there and try to do just as much as last year’s team did,” Chambers said. “If we do what we’re supposed to do, and we all just keep working toward the common goal of winning and getting better every day, I think hopefully we can be proud of ourselves at the end of the road.”

Where that road ends no one knows, but if it ends in a fifth straight Ivy title and a fourth straight NCAA tournament appearance the expectations -- there’s that word again -- will go only higher and higher. If the Crimson make it to the Big Dance again, supporters won’t just want them to win a game -- they’ll want them to make a run.

The hardwood cognoscenti across the country clearly believe in Harvard, as the preseason polls prove (the Crimson got 47 votes in the USA Today coaches poll, tied for Stanford for 26th in the land).

“It’s meaningful for us,” Amaker said of the preseason recognition. “We work very hard every day to attain a certain level of relevance and respect and credibility.

“That comes with the work that goes in ,and we’re fortunate that we’ve had some amazing kids that have believed in our philosophy and our system and have performed incredibly well in key moments, in key times, to put us in the position that we’re in today. And we’ve had fun doing it.”

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Amaker hires Eskildsen as new assistant

July, 2, 2014
7/02/14
7:26
PM ET
It’s that time again, time for everyone’s favorite (fake) game show! Who’s ready to play “Six (or fewer) Degrees of (Basketball) Separation?”

Harvard coach Tommy Amaker hired a new assistant coach on Wednesday, bringing in Brian Eskildsen to replace the departed Adam Cohen (who followed the Yanni Hufnagel route to Vanderbilt, after Hufnagel departed Vandy for a golden opportunity at Cal).

Now, let’s take a look at a few of the connections that may have led the Crimson’s new assistant to Cambridge (or Allston, if you want to be technical).

A Tennessee graduate (Class of 2009), Eskildsen got his start in basketball administration as an undergraduate office assistant and scout team member for the Lady Vols and legendary coach Pat Summitt. From there, he moved to the University of New Orleans as director of operations.

That job led Eskildsen to Stanford, where he worked as recruiting and video coordinator for Johnny Dawkins -- a former teammate of Amaker’s at Duke. (That’s one tie.)

After three seasons in Palo Alto, Eskildsen moved to Houston to take a job as an assistant coach under Rice coach Ben Braun. With the Owls, Eskildsen worked with the post players, served as recruiting coordinator, was in charge of opponent scouting and was tasked with game scheduling.

And who did the Owls play in 2013-14? Harvard. (That’s at least two ties -- and since Eskildsen was in charge of scheduling and then scouting the Crimson we’re going to rewrite the rules and count this as three in one to bring our total to four ties.)

A native of Fairfax, Virginia, Eskildsen went to the same high school (WT Woodson) as -- wait for it -- one Tommy Amaker (that’s five ties).

Finally, there’s the Twitter connection. If you’re looking for entertainment in your social media experience, neither Amaker nor Eskildsen is your man. (Amaker doesn’t have a Twitter account; Eskildsen has an account, complete with new Harvard banner, but zero tweets.)

That makes six ties (give or take). Thanks for playing!

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Harvard hoops gets Ivy championship rings

June, 21, 2014
6/21/14
3:38
PM ET
To the victors belong the spoils.

Harvard men’s hoops won its fourth straight Ivy League title in 2013-14, and this week the Crimson collected their prizes.

Crimson associate director of athletic communications Andrew Chesebro tweeted a picture of the bauble on Friday:



Assistant coach -- and former player -- Christian Webster also couldn’t resist showing the trinket off, posting a picture of his latest reward on Instagram:



The caption?

“Add one more to the collection ... ”

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Rivard & Co. celebrate Harvard graduation

May, 29, 2014
5/29/14
6:48
PM ET
Laurent Rivard never seemed to be much of a trash-talker.

Maybe it’s because he’s Canadian, or maybe it’s because he’s always been a specialist on the court for the Crimson. Whatever the reason, Rivard was one of the last Harvard hoops players you’d see beating his chest after a big play.

About the closest the two-time co-captain would come to on-court braggadocio was throwing up three fingers after stroking another 3-pointer.

Which is not to say the sharpshooter from Quebec will never let people know when he’s done something he’s proud of.

Harvard held its commencement ceremonies on Thursday, and among the many graduates were Rivard and four of his Harvard hoops teammates.



Rivard, who helped the Crimson win three straight outright Ivy League titles and played in three straight NCAA tournaments to end his career, tweeted about the day after the ceremonies:



The Crimson’s all-time leader in 3s, Rivard posted the following picture to Instagram:



The rest of his message?

Got to meet some incredible people, met@christylee101, had an unbelievable basketball at Harvard with @harvardathletics. Thanks to my family and friends who were with me from day 1!#whatdidyoudotoday?
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Saunders wins Ivy POY; six Crimson All-Ivy

March, 12, 2014
3/12/14
11:42
PM ET
The player Harvard coach Tommy Amaker has repeatedly called the Crimson's best is now officially the Ivy League's best, as on Wednesday the league named Wesley Saunders the 2013-14 Ivy League Player of the Year.

Saunders, a unanimous pick for the All-Ivy first team for the second straight season, is the third Crimson player to earn Ivy player of the year honors after Keith Wright in 2011 and Joe Carrabino in 1984.

[+] EnlargeWesley Saunders
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsIvy League player of the year Wesley Saunders' season isn't over yet, as Harvard awaits its NCAA tournament seeding.
The Crimson, who matched a program record with 26 total wins and set records with 13 Ivy wins and a 7-0 Ivy road record, landed six players on All-Ivy squads -- tied for most all time, with the 1994-1995 Penn team -- with Siyani Chambers, Steve Moundou-Missi and Laurent Rivard voted to the All-Ivy second team and Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry receiving honorable mentions.

A Los Angeles native, Saunders filled up the box score as a junior, averaging 14.0 points (8th in Ivy), 4.7 rebounds (17th), 3.9 assists (third), 1.7 steals (first). He finished in the top 10 in the league in field goal percentage (46.6), assist-to-turnover ratio (1.7), blocked shots (0.8) and minutes per game (33.7).

Saunders was often asked to both guard the opposing team's best player and lead the Crimson in scoring, which he did 10 times.

Chambers, the Ivy Rookie of the Year in 2012-13, earns a second consecutive All-Ivy honor after averaging 11.1 points and 4.7 assists (second in the Ivy) on the Ancient Eight's most potent offense (73.6 points per game).

After receiving an honorable mention last season, Moundou-Missi and Rivard each earned their first All-Ivy second-team spot.

Moundou-Missi, a native of Yaounde, Cameroon, was named the Ivy's player of the week for his performances in the Crimson's season-ending weekend sweep, averaging 21.5 points and 11.5 rebounds in wins at Yale and Brown. He finished the season averaging a career-high 10.5 points and 5.8 rebounds.

Rivard, the Crimson's all-time leader in made 3-pointers (282), averaged 10.0 points and shot a career-high 42.6 percent on 3s.

And after sitting out the 2012-13 season after being implicated in a university-wide academic cheating scandal, Casey led the team in blocked shots (1.2, fourth in Ivy) and Curry matched his career high with 9.3 points per game.

The Crimson clinched the Ivy title outright with their win over Yale, their third straight outright and fourth straight overall, and will wait 'til Sunday to find out who they will play in the NCAA tournament.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Harvard bests Yale, earns NCAA tourney bid

March, 8, 2014
3/08/14
1:37
AM ET
NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- A few minutes before tipoff, the floor of play still empty but the stands quickly filling up, Tommy Amaker stole a glance through a side door.

It was a familiar sight for the veteran coach. Cheerleaders warming up. The band playing. Fans settling into seats, clad in their team colors.

[+] EnlargeAmaker/Chambers
AP Photo/Jessica HillTommy Amaker talks with PG Siyani Chambers in the first half of Harvard's 70-58 Ivy-clinching win.
But this court was painted in blue, rather than the familiar crimson, and instead of an H at midcourt there was a cartoon bulldog. And if all went well in the next 120-odd minutes, Amaker's Crimson would make more history in a building and a rivalry already steeped in it.

This was Friday night in the Ivy League in March. This was Harvard-Yale at John J. Lee Amphitheater with an NCAA berth on the line.

For any team playing its oldest, bitterest rival in unkind country, some display of nerves is understandable.

The Crimson displayed none. With a raucous, mostly blue-clad crowd bearing down on them, the visitors scored the game's first nine points and sprinted out to leads of 16-2, 20-7 and 36-23 in the first half.

"We talked about how important it was gonna be to get off to a good start here on the road," Amaker said. "We knew how challenging it was gonna be."

Justin Sears led all scorers with 28, but Harvard had three players in double digits and led by as many as 18 in the second half on its way to postseason play for the third straight season. With the 70-58 win, the Crimson claimed the Ivy League title outright and earned the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

"For us to win the outright title, and I guess we've been told we're the first team that's officially in the NCAA tournament," Amaker said, "it means a great deal. And for the right reasons. For us to represent a great conference, for us to represent our institution and the way these guys have played and put their heart and souls on the line all season.

"I think we've shown that we've been the best team in our league. And that's saying something because we know how tough this league is night in and night out."

Harvard has indeed been the Ivy League's best all season long. Coming into Friday's game, the only blemish on the Crimson's Ancient Eight résumé was a home loss to these same Bulldogs.

So while Harvard-Yale typically doesn't require extra fuel for the competitive fire, the Crimson said that loss added some.

"We were very disappointed in what led to that weekend for us," Amaker said. "And we talked about it, our preparation and our work in practice. I thought we made a concerted effort to regroup and respond. And we've been on a mission since then to prepare the right way.

"We talk about a lot of people want to win, but how many people are gonna really prepare to win. I think we have embraced that, and ran with it."

[+] EnlargeHarvard
AP Photo/Jessica HillSiyani Chambers and Brandyn Curry celebrate after locking up the Crimson program's third straight NCAA tournament appearance.
After the loss to the Bulldogs on Feb. 8, the Crimson have ripped off seven straight wins and six straight by double digits. In four of those games, the Crimson held their opponent to 47 or fewer points.

"We had been talking about 'We have gotta seize the moment, because it's right there,'" Brandyn Curry said. "It was in our control and the only thing we had to do was just keep being us. Just don't be impostors or anything like that. Just play our game, and that starts with defense."

Both teams had forgettable nights in some facets, with Harvard going 14-for-32 (43.8 percent) on free throws and Yale going 0-for-14 on 3-pointers.

But from the floor, things were much more memorable for the Crimson. The visitors shot 56.8 percent for the night, while holding the hosts to just 36.0 percent.

"My message to the team before the game was 'Don't let the moment be too big, do your job and play within the lines,'" Yale coach James Jones said. "We did a poor job of that."

For Curry, the Ivy title and NCAA berth meant a little something extra this season. The senior co-captain sat out the 2012-13 season after being one of more than 100 Harvard students implicated in an academic cheating scandal. So he wasn't around for the historic upset of New Mexico in the Big Dance.

When asked what the win Friday night meant to him, Curry got a little choked up.

"It -- " he started, then stopped. "It means a lot. After going through everything last year, if you could ask us if this is how you wanted to win it, you couldn't ask for much better.

"Especially since three years ago we lost to Princeton here [in the Ivy League tiebreaker game] on the Doug Davis buzzer-beater with 2.8 seconds. So that was the toughest loss. That was the last time we were here playing for a championship. And we lost. So it definitely means a lot to come back and win here."

Harvard clinches share of 4th Ivy title in row

March, 1, 2014
3/01/14
11:18
PM ET
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- The Crimson often say the Ivy League is won on Saturday nights. And when Columbia came to Lavietes Pavilion for the final Harvard home game in 2013-14, that normally figurative saying turned literal.

A win Saturday night over the Lions would secure at least a share of a fourth straight Ivy League title, while a win and a Yale loss at Penn would guarantee an outright title and a third straight NCAA tourney berth.

[+] EnlargeKyle Casey
Eric Canha/CSMHarvard senior Kyle Casey throws down a monster dunk in his final home game at Lavietes Pavilion.
The Crimson knew the stakes, and they played like it from the jump.

"We just came out ready," Wesley Saunders said. "I think we came out with a lot of energy."

Saunders came up with a steal early, pushed hard upcourt and then dropped the ball back to a trailing Kyle Casey, who gathered himself, launched from the middle of the lane and finished the highlight-reel dunk with two hands. Laurent Rivard shook his defender, found a pocket in front of the Columbia bench, called for the ball and then drained the shot.

And Siyani Chambers jumped the passing lane, picking off the toss and sprinting the length of the court for a layup.

That layup made it 22-4 Crimson, with just more than 10 minutes elapsed. It was just about as dominant a start as one team can have and highlighted all the Crimson's strengths (defense, 3-point and free throw shooting and a willingness to share the ball).

And while the Lions tried to fight back, the hill was too steep to climb, and the Crimson refused to make it any easier in an 80-47 win.

"I'm really proud of our guys. I'm really proud of this team, this group right now," Crimson coach Tommy Amaker said. "I just thought that our defensive effort clearly was on full display, how we started the game with the pressure we were able to put on.

"I was very, very pleased with that with what was at stake for us tonight."

The capper came courtesy of the two-time co-captain, Rivard. With Harvard comfortably ahead, the St. Bruno, Quebec, native let a 3 fly from the top of the key. Swish. And to add insult to injury, Rivard drew a foul on his follow-through, getting clipped and sliding on his backside all the way to the 'H' at center court.

As the crowd serenaded the Crimson's all-time leader in games (119 and counting, passing Oliver McNally) and 3s made (276), Rivard calmly stepped to the line and completed the four-point play.

Rivard finished with a game-high 21 on six 3s and three free throws, ending his Harvard career at Lavietes with a flourish.

"If you can write a script, this would be one of the ones you could probably write," Amaker said. "It doesn't always happen that way, and you recognize that, but when it does, how wonderful and cool is it to see it and be a part of it?"

But Rivard and fellow seniors Casey (10 points, four rebounds) and Brandyn Curry (five points, three rebounds) aren't done just yet. Yale managed to hold off Penn, keeping its hopes of an Ivy share alive and amping up the game this coming Friday in New Haven, Conn., between the Crimson and the Bulldogs.

Though they are the first Ivy team since Penn from 1993 to 1996 to win at least a share of the title for four straight seasons, the Crimson aren't satisfied. They want more.

"We came into the weekend knowing that we had to win two games," Rivard said. "So far, it's worked out. We need at least another win. But we know we want two next weekend."

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Harvard's Curry hits stride down stretch

February, 27, 2014
2/27/14
6:01
PM ET
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Brandyn Curry was flying high.

Having sat out the entire 2012-13 season, after he was one of more than 100 Harvard students implicated in an academic cheating scandal, on the eve of the 2013-14 season the Crimson senior co-captain couldn't wait to get back on the court.

"I came back and I was feeling the best I ever felt," Curry said Monday, in the lounge at Lavietes. "I told numerous people, that was the best I ever felt health-wise, my basketball game, everything. I put a lot of work for those prior months. And then I had a very good game against Holy Cross, I felt like I played very well and I was looking forward to doing well in the next couple games and then that just kinda came out of nowhere."

[+] EnlargeBrandyn Curry
Eric Canha/CSMBrandyn Curry is making a big impact for the Crimson after sitting out last season.
"That" was a left Achilles injury, and just as Curry was starting his senior season it knocked him out again.

"It was definitely tough, because I thought I wasn't gonna be out that long," Curry said. "I thought I would maybe miss the MIT game and stuff like that, and then come to find out I was gonna have to take all those weeks off. So it definitely was very tough.

"But if anything I learned from last year that everything happens for a reason, and there's always some good in the face of adversity."

For Curry, who ended up missing nine of the team's first 11 games, the silver lining is that as the Crimson careen down the stretch of the Ivy League schedule his legs feel fresh.

He matched his season high with 17 points in Harvard's 59-47 win at Princeton, the first at Jadwin Gymnasium since 1989, and has hit double figures in points in three of his past five games.

"We don't come away with a victory, obviously, on Saturday without Brandyn," Crimson coach Tommy Amaker said. "I'm happy to see how well he's playing. He's in a very good rhythm right now and that's critical as we go down the stretch of this season."

Amaker calls Curry a sixth starter, making clear how high he holds him in regard.

"There's no maintenance with him, he's terrific," Amaker said. "He's everything that you could ask for and then some. ... There's no one more respected than Brandyn."

That respect was clear when his teammates voted Curry a co-captain, along with Laurent Rivard, despite the Huntersville, N.C., native not being on the team in 2012-13.

And it's only grown as the former starter and primary playmaker has seamlessly adapted to his new role off the bench.

"[He's been] giving us senior leadership, giving us scoring, toughness and all the things you would expect out of a veteran, senior guard, he does it," Amaker said.

Curry is averaging a career-high 9.5 points per game, 45.7 percent shooting and 37.5 percent shooting on 3s in 2013-14, and is averaging a career-low 2.9 assists per game as he has moved off the ball and ceded playmaking duties to Siyani Chambers and Wesley Saunders.

Harvard (22-4, 9-1 Ivy League) has a one-game lead over Yale with four games left in the regular season. The Crimson will celebrate their seniors this weekend, as Cornell (2-22, 1-9) and Columbia (17-10, 6-4) visit for the final two Harvard home games.

It has started to hit Curry that it will all be over soon.

"After our last home game, I was like, 'Damn, so we've got two more weeks, two away trips and then come back and it's our last home game,'" he said. "It kinda hasn't hit me yet, I kinda don't want it to. Think about it's the last time I'm gonna suit up and play here ...

"It's definitely gonna be a special moment. I've got some more family coming up and I'm just gonna enjoy it. I'm just gonna enjoy every minute of it."

Amaker has certainly enjoyed having Curry, and his teammates Matt Brown, Kyle Casey and Dee Giger -- who also sat out 2012-13 due to the academic scandal -- back this season. Though he wouldn't say it outright, Amaker clearly feels it's unfair that Casey and Curry have largely been identified as the poster boys of the incident, while others have gone mostly unnoticed.

"I'm incredibly proud of those guys for what they had to endure, and how they handled it and how in a lot of ways they became the face of it for everybody," Amaker said of Casey and Curry. "I thought those guys were magnificent with it. I'm proud of that and I'm proud they're in the position they're in right now in their final season. Because this is what they wanted to return to do, to be in a position like this."

Four games left with a one-game lead and a shot at a fourth straight Ivy League title -- there's nowhere else Curry and the Crimson would rather be.

"It was like, 'I already sat out. I missed a whole year,'" Curry said, explaining how he dealt with the frustration of being injured. "I'm just so grateful just to be a part of this university and be able to play basketball, period. I have much more of an appreciation for everything in my life because of what I had to go through.

"So being injured was unfortunate but it really wasn't that big of a deal."

Headed for the finish, Curry and the Crimson are flying high once again.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Notebook: Harvard hoops hurting

January, 31, 2014
1/31/14
11:16
PM ET
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- In the end, it was the cruelest of cameos.

After missing the first 17 games of the season, Harvard big man Kenyatta Smith returned from a foot injury to play two low-pressure minutes in the Crimson's blowout win at Dartmouth on Sunday. He didn't take a shot, grab a rebound or even commit a foul. He met with reporters Monday, when he talked about how excited he was to be back, and then roughly an hour later he broke a bone in his left foot in practice.

He'll miss the rest of the season with the injury.

"Very disappointing for him, first of all," Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. "And then certainly disappointing for our team, knowing that he was gonna be an integral part of this season, of whatever success we were gonna have. And know we don't have him. We didn't have other pieces here tonight, either, so it was a very tough game for us to figure out without having a full complement of players."

The Crimson were also without junior forward Jonah Travis, who suffered a concussion in the win over Dartmouth, and sophomore guard/forward Agunwa Okolie, who is dealing with a sore knee and missed a couple days of practice this week, in the 82-76 win over Princeton. Amaker said they're both out indefinitely.

"We anticipate having those guys at some point, they're not out for the season," Amaker said. "They're banged up now. We're very hopeful that we'll get them back and have those guys fill in our rotation. But will that be tomorrow? We don't know."

Harvard hosts Penn on Saturday night (9 ET).

"It was different, but Coach [Amaker] always prepares us," Harvard co-captain Laurent Rivard said of playing without the trio. "He always says 'Stay ready, so you don't have to get ready.' Whether we have those guys or not, we just stay true to our identity. Maybe we have to play some more minutes, but a lot of us are used to it."

Against Princeton, Siyani Chambers and Wesley Saunders each played 38 minutes, and Amaker mostly relied on his starting five when things got tight in the second half.

"Guys do a great job in practice to stay ready," Rivard said. "And everybody works hard so that when Coach calls your name they're ready to go in. We do the same thing whether guys are in or out. Injuries, they're not fun to have and we miss these guys but we do the same thing whether they're on the court or not."

Loving Lavietes

The 82-76 win was Harvard's 18th straight at home, one of the longest streaks in the nation (Duke has the longest active home win streak, at 28).

Holding serve at home is important, Rivard said, because the Crimson know just how hard it is to win on the road. So don't expect the Crimson to slack off Saturday just because Penn comes in on a downswing, at 4-12 overall and 1-1 in the Ivy.

"Coach always says the league is won on Saturday nights," Rivard said. "If we lose tomorrow we're back in the mix with everybody else. We're trying to separate ourselves from these teams, so it's a big game for us tomorrow."

"Our conference is a bear," Amaker said. "And I don't think anybody is gonna feel like they're gonna have a chance when it's all said and done if we can't feel like you have a very good home record within our league."

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Saunders stars as Harvard tops Princeton

January, 31, 2014
1/31/14
11:09
PM ET
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Wesley Saunders walked back over halfcourt, in no hurry after the whistle blew.

The Los Angeles native is almost always the personification of California cool, calm and collected, but as he neared the Harvard bench, the junior showed a rare moment of frustration.

He snapped his right arm down, slapping his right hip, and then somewhat grudgingly accepted a handshake from point guard Siyani Chambers.

[+] EnlargeWesley Saunders
Eric Canha/CSMWesley Saunders did it all against Princeton, producing 24 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists.
What had the Crimson star upset? He'd just missed a shot he thought he should've made, a twisting, spinning fallaway jumper off glass (difficulty level: 9 out of 10) that would've given the Crimson a four-point lead over the rival Princeton Tigers late in the first half in what eventually became a 82-76 Harvard victory.

Saunders wasn't the only one upset at the miss.

"Well, I was frustrated that he took the shot," Harvard coach Tommy Amaker cracked after the game, drawing laughs from the gathered reporters. "We were talking about making sure that we got something inside, to the basket to get to the one-and-one. ... He's so good that he can do that, and drive it and then if [the defenders] help he's such a good passer you see what he can do with assists. I was disappointed that he settled for that.

"Because he's capable, that's the blessing and the burden -- that he's capable of making acrobatic shots. ... It was a major league kind of talent kind of play, but I think we needed more of a simpler play at that moment in time. I let him know that."

It was only Saunders' second miss of the night, but then simply being 4-for-6 for 10 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals in less than a half of play isn't good enough anymore for Saunders.

"That was just a shot that I've been working on a lot, and it felt good coming off my hand so I kinda thought it was going in," he said. "I was just kinda frustrated that it didn't go in."

Then he got the earful from Amaker.

"He just wants me to be aggressive, attacking the basket," Saunders said. "He doesn't like it when I kinda let the defense get away with not having to guard me, really, and kind of just fade away from the basket. He wants me to always be going towards the basket, trying to make a play for my teammates or make a play for myself. That was one of those plays that was kinda iffy."

That play may have been iffy, but if it comes in the kind of package Saunders delivered Friday night, the Crimson will ultimately take it.

Hans Brase, who came into the matchup averaging 11.7 points, seemingly couldn't miss for the Tigers early. The 6-foot-8, 231-pound sophomore scored the Tigers' first 11 points and 17 of their first 21, finishing the half 7-for-9 overall, including 3-for-4 on 3s, for 18 points (a career high).

With Saunders blanketing Princeton leading scorer T.J. Bray in the first half, the Clover, S.C., native almost singlehandedly kept the Tigers close to the Crimson, who were playing without center Kenyatta Smith (out for the season because of a broken bone in his foot), backup big man Jonah Travis (concussion) and reserve guard Agunwa Okolie.

"He torched us early," Amaker said of Brase. "Much better job on him in the second half by us, and I'm sure some things that he missed."

While Brase cooled off after the break, Saunders stayed hot -- scoring the Crimson's first six points and then cutting left across the lane in transition and hitting Laurent Rivard for a wide-open 3 in front of the Harvard bench to push the hosts up by seven.

After that assist, which got the capacity crowd rocking and forced Princeton to call timeout, Saunders peeled off and ran all the way back upcourt, past the Tigers' bench, celebrating the sequence.

Harvard led by as many as 15, and though a Tigers run (aided by some shaking Crimson free-throw shooting) cut it to single digits late, the Crimson held on. Saunders finished with 24 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, three steals and one block.

"Amazing," Rivard said of Saunders' performance. "Obviously if we can get that from him any night, we'll be tough to beat. For him to almost get a triple-double ... I think he made a lot of smart decisions and a lot of smart plays tonight and big shots, too, in the second half."

It has reached the point that the Crimson almost expect to see these kinds of numbers next to Saunders' name after a game.

"We know he's able to do it, so we kinda expect it from him and try to push him to do that every night for us," Rivard said. "He's a really, really big part of our team. If he doesn't do that, we kinda suffer in other areas."

Said Amaker: "That's what he can do. It doesn't surprise us. We know that he's capable of that kind of performance, when you look around and these are his kind of numbers. It was a tremendous effort on his part."

An effort that Harvard will take any day of the week, even if it includes the occasional frustrating circus shot.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

Harvard PG Curry eager to return to action

October, 3, 2013
10/03/13
10:36
PM ET
Brandyn Curry was losing it.

Harvard was beating New Mexico for the first NCAA tournament win in the program's long history, and the Crimson's would-be senior co-captain was at home in the Charlotte, N.C., area.

"I was right in my living room with all my family, going nuts, going crazy," he said recently.

Curry was torn. Though he was happy for his teammates and coaches, he was also upset that he couldn't be a part of the historic accomplishment.

Because they were implicated in an academic cheating scandal that involved more than 100 Harvard students, Curry and fellow would-be senior co-captain Kyle Casey had to withdraw from school for a year before the 2012-13 season started to preserve their eligibility. The pair is back in the fold now, ready to get on with their lives as the Crimson prepare for the 2013-14 season.

[+] EnlargeBrandyn Curry
AP Photo/Matt YorkBrandyn Curry hasn't played for the Crimson since a 2012 NCAA tournament loss to Vanderbilt.
Asked about the scandal, Curry said he couldn't talk about the details but that withdrawing was "definitely the right decision."

Curry said he had to get a job -- he worked as a life-insurance salesman -- and was forced to work out on his own, separated from his Crimson teammates and the Cambridge campus.

"It was really tough at first to sit at home and watch, especially with the first game when we lost to UMass," Curry said. "Definitely wanted to be out there. But it was actually a really great experience to get to watch our team as a spectator.

"Getting to watch them really develop, especially the younger guys with Siyani [Chambers] and Wes [Saunders], getting to watch them pretty much grow up and step into their roles was a tremendous thing to watch."

Taking over the point guard spot after Curry had to withdraw, Chambers ran with the opportunity. The 6-foot, 170-pounder won the Ivy League Rookie of the Year award, averaging 12.9 points (Ivy rank: sixth), 5.7 assists (first) and 37.8 minutes per game (first).

Saunders, shouldering the mantle of top scoring option as a sophomore, scored in double digits in all 28 of Harvard's games and led the Ivy in scoring per game (16.5 PPG).

Harvard returns practically its entire roster from the team that went 20-10 (including 11-2 in the Ivy) last season, losing only Christian Webster (who's back, too, as an assistant coach), and now adds Curry and Casey into the mix along with top recruit Zena Edosomwan.

"We're definitely excited, just adding pieces to the team," senior sharpshooter Laurent Rivard said. "We lost only one player and we're getting these guys back and getting a lot of experience from them, a lot of talent from them. They're players that have done a lot for this program. We're excited to have them back and try to take this season to a whole new level."

Coach Tommy Amaker said at the Massachusetts basketball media day that he doesn't know how the pieces fit yet. But Curry has a few ideas.

For starters, he expects more big things from Chambers.

"We expect him to really be the main one driving the team, being the quarterback out there and handling the ball and continuing to improve," he said. "I think having me and Kyle back he just has more weapons now to facilitate the ball to. I think we'll be great defensive-wise, and can wreak havoc in the backcourt."

In other words, don't expect Curry to butt heads with his young teammate over who gets to hold the reins.

"Absolutely," he said about whether he'll mesh well with Chambers. "I feel we're both unselfish players, we both can score and we both have our team's best interest in mind. So we're just trying to win, whatever it takes. I think we'll complement each other very well."

With another wildly successful season behind them, the Crimson appear to be more than happy to accommodate the returns of Casey and Curry.

One measure? The Crimson voted Curry a co-captain, along with 2012-13 co-captain Rivard.

Amaker said he wasn't surprised at the result, knowing Curry the way he does. Which is not to say the coach didn't find it noteworthy.

"I think that's an amazing thing for one of those guys to be thought of again in that way and he wasn't even there," Amaker said. "I just think if you look at that in a way, how much that speaks about Brandyn. I think he thinks of himself in that role. I think that's the way that he's always carried himself in our program."

"For me it was definitely a tremendous, tremendous honor," Curry said. "That was one thing that definitely hurt -- being co-captain and then having to take the leave, I wasn't really sure how it was gonna shake out because that's something that I wanted to be, was a captain."

Unlike his coach, Curry admitted the voting took him aback a bit.

"Part of me was surprised, because the young guys didn't really know me that well," he said. "Definitely a little bit of a shock. I'm just very happy that it did work out."

Having spent a year away, Curry returns with some added perspective. He can never get 2012-13 back, he'll never be a part of the historic first win in the Big Dance.

But that doesn't mean there's no history left to be made. And if Harvard can beat the pressure of raised expectations and make more winning history in 2013-14, Curry will surely lose himself in the middle of it.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

SPONSORED HEADLINES