Harvard earns 4th straight Ivy title in seniors’ storybook home finale

Home finales don’t get much more perfect than Harvard’s final game this season at Lavietes Pavilion unfolded Saturday night. Against an opponent that took them to the wire earlier this season, the Crimson played its most complete game of the season, opening up a 20-4 lead that was never seriously threatened. Three seniors — Laurent Rivard, Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry — said goodbye to their home gym with games that neatly summarized four years’ of contributions. And when the 80-47 rout was finished, those seniors and the rest of the Crimson officially celebrated their fourth straight Ivy League title.

“If you could write a script, this would be one of the ones you would probably write,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “It doesn’t always happen that way, but when it does … to have it culminate in a moment like this tonight, you feel very blessed to be a part of it.”

Casey handled the primary duty of guarding Columbia’s Alex Rosenberg, who torched Harvard for 34 points in a double-overtime meeting two weeks ago. It seemed a sure recipe for foul trouble, as Rosenberg ranks third nationally in fouls drawn per minute and Casey has always had problems playing whistle-free defense. But Casey sent Rosenberg to the line just once; in fact, it was Rosenberg whose minutes were limited with foul trouble, thanks in part to the roulette wheels that are Saturday night Ivy refs. Rosenberg finished with just 10 points on 1-for-7 shooting.

Not all of Casey’s contributions were hidden from the box score, however — his 10 points included three dunks, bringing his career total to 99. Several of those jams have made highlight reels, and his two-handed slam from several feet away on a first-half fast break belongs with the best of them:

Curry also played a large role for Harvard’s defense, which held the second-best offense in Ivy play to just 47 points on 60 possessions. In the second half, the 6-2 guard showed off one of his signature defensive skills, swatting a Steve Frankoski three-point attempt out of bounds. Curry also added two assists, both of which went to fellow senior Rivard, who burned down the nets on his way out of Lavietes.

The Canadian sharpshooter scored a game-high 21 points on six threes, moving into third place in the all-time Ivy record books, and even recorded a surprisingly athletic block of Meiko Lyles in transition (just his third rejection in the last two years). With four minutes remaining in the blowout, Rivard ended his Lavietes Pavilion career with his trademarked play — a catch-and-shoot three-pointer, and one — drawing a standing ovation from the sellout crowd.

“I still remember, the first game I played in college, I went 0-for-11, 0-for-7 from three. But Coach [Amaker] and all my teammates, they all had confidence in me, and told me to keep shooting even if I had a bad game,” Rivard said. “Finishing my career at Lavietes with a game like that in front of the crowd — a lot of people from home are here — it’s amazing.”

“That’s Laurent. That’s what he does,” said junior guard Wesley Saunders. “He’s probably one of the best shooters I’ve ever seen, if not the best.”

Columbia clawed within 10 points on a Maodo Lo layup early in the second half, bringing a little bit of life into what had been a blowout. But the Crimson responded with a 20-5 run — capped, of course, by a Rivard trey — that turned the rest of the game into a coronation. Harvard seniors received ovations as they were pulled off the court, in recognition of their roles in transforming the Crimson’s basketball program.

“Coach started talking about winning championships when he was recruiting us — we weren’t even at Harvard yet, and he was talking about winning championships,” said Rivard, now one of the first four-time Ivy champions since Penn’s Class of 1996. “We got a taste of it my freshman year, but we didn’t get to the tournament … we’ve always wanted more, and we’ve always stayed hungry.”

One order of Ivy League business is still open — an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, for which Harvard’s magic number remains at one after Yale edged Penn on Saturday. When Harvard clinched its first NCAA berth in 2012, the Crimson was in its dorms as Penn lost at Princeton; last season, Harvard waited about half an hour after its season finale to learn that it would be dancing when Brown topped Princeton. (The same thing nearly happened on Saturday, as the Penn-Yale game was still in doubt about 15 minutes after Harvard had left its court.)

But this year, if the Crimson locks up the automatic bid, no matter where it happens — in its head-to-head meeting with Yale on Friday, at Brown on Saturday or, if necessary, in a playoff the following week — it will, for once, be on their own terms.

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