SPOKANE, Wash. — Call it an upset if you want. The kids from Harvard won't.
No. 12 seed Harvard dumped No. 5 seed Cincinnati 61-57 at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena, building an early lead, then holding on despite withering defensive pressure.
A year ago, Harvard upset No. 3 New Mexico — a trendy pick to reach the Final Four — for the first NCAA Tournament victory in school history. Want some more? It's the first time an Ivy League team won NCAA Tournament games in consecutive years since 1983-84.
But Tommy Amaker has built a program that doesn't much resemble the stereotype.
The tone might have been set — or at least, a stereotype shattered — early, when senior forward Kyle Casey took a pass and threw down a tomahawk dunk in traffic. And hey, the Crimson do not shoot free throws well, at all. Harvard connected on just 17 of 28. But in the final 29 seconds, the Crimson hit five of six.
One stereotype remained valid: Cincinnati is offensively challenged. The Bearcats bothered Harvard with trapping, full-court pressure and fierce half-court man-to-man. But on the other end, they struggled, shooting just 36.8%. During a stretch of more than eight minutes in the first half — as Harvard built its lead — Cincinnati missed 12 consecutive shots. The Bearcats missed several point-blank shots in the final moments.
Wesley Saunders led Harvard with 12 points. Laurent Rivard and Siyani Chambers each scored 11. Cincinnati senior guard Sean Kilpatrick led all scorers with 18, and Justin Jackson added 13. But when the final buzzer sounded, Jackson crumpled to the court, crying. Two Harvard players hovered over him, attempting to console him.
Harvard advanced to the Round of 32 in the East Region, where it will play the winner of Michigan State-Delaware.
Harvard struggled at times against the press. And in the halfcourt, the Crimson routinely went deep into possessions, only in part because of the Bearcats' defense. After building leads of as much as nine points in the first half — hitting six of 11 three-point attempts, Harvard held on despite missing all six three-point attempts in the second half.