All season long Harvard (24-4, 10-2 Ivy League) has been labeled as the best team and team to beat in the Ivy League but winning has never come easy for the Crimson in their history. Harvard's championship banner has a small list of accolades: NCAA Tournament Appearances in 1946, NIT Appearances 2011. Adding that second NCAA Tournament Appearance was the goal all season long for the team after last season's loss in the Ivy League Playoff game to Princeton but the road became a little bit tougher Saturday night.
Pennsylvania (17-11, 9-2 Ivy League) senior guard Zach Rosen led a furious nine-point comeback in the final 8:10, as the Quakers outscored Harvard 15-5 over the final minutes to keep their own NCAA Tournament hopes alive. Rosen finished with a game-high 20 points, including the team's final nine points in the team's rally.
"It's a devestating loss, it's a disappointing loss....but hopefully we can build off this going forward," Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker said.
Junior forward Kyle Casey led the Crimson with 12 points and six rebounds on Senior Day but also turned the ball over five times, including a charge call with 3.5 seconds to play. Freshmen guard Wesley Saunders added 10 points off the bench, while senior forward Keith Wright added nine points and five rebounds.
Rosen was the lone Quaker to finish with double figures as the senior hit 4-of-8 shots in the second half, after connecting on just 2-of-6 shots in the first half. Rob Belacore added five points and four assists for the Quakers who ended Harvard's 28-game home winning streak at the Lavietes Pavilion.
Harvard led by two possessions or more for almost the entire second half but never could put the Quakers away. After Pennsylvania cut a 35-24 Harvard lead to one point (37-36), the Crimson seemed to be cruising when they built the lead back to 49-40 with 8:10 to play. That's when Rosen struck.
Over the final 8:10, Rosen outscored the Crimson 11-5 and answered every Crimson basket with one of his own. Rosen knocked down two free throws with just under six minutes left to cut the deficit to seven and two layups from Henry Brooks brought the game within five for the Quakers.
With Pennsylvania trailing 51-46 with 4:47 to play, Rosen completely took over. The Colonia, New Jersey native hit a fadeaway three to cut the deficit to two and then another fadeaway jumper to cut the deficit to one after a Casey free throw. In the final two minutes, Rosen hit another jumper, and then took a strong drive to the basket forcing Casey to foul him with 23 seconds to play. Rosen calmly sank both free throws to give the Quakers their first lead in over 28 minutes.
Harvard had two final chances, but freshmen Corbin Miller's 3-pointer was off the mark and Casey was called for a charge on a strong baseline move with 3.5 seconds to go. Two deep passes down the length of the court later and Pennsylvania found their dreams of playing in a neutral site Ivy League Playoff Game a very real reality.
Harvard has two regular season games remaining, as they'll travel to Columbia Friday and Cornell on Saturday. With wins in both games, Harvard can do no worse than sharing the Ivy League Title for the second season in a row.