Harvard, previously winless in three NCAA tournament games, stunned 3rd-seeded New Mexico in Salt Lake City, 68-62, on the strength of a patient, efficient offense.
The 14th-seeded Crimson, previously 0-3 in the tourney – last year’s trip to the Dance was their first in 66 years – will now advance to the second round* Saturday to play 6th seeded Arizona.
Midway through the 2nd half though, Harvard went into a funk, going eight minutes without a basket. New Mexico grabbed a 53-52 lead briefly before a 7-0 spurt gave the Crimson a lead it never lost. The final 90 seconds were an anticlimactic parade to the free throw line.New Mexico came into the tournament hot, having won the WAC tournament title and nine of 10 games. But the Lobos offense boggged down in the halfcourt – except for center Alex Kirk, who carried them for much of the night with 22 points – and Harvard’s methodical attack worked to perfection. The Crimson shot 52 percent from the field and 44 percent on 3-pointers. Wesley Saunders scored 18 points and added 17 points including five three-pointers.
Steve Alford, who just signed a 10-year contract extension, knows what it’s like to lose to a 14-seed: at Iowa in 2006, the Hawkeyes lost to Northwestern State on this miraculous shot. WAC Player of the Year Kendall Williams was a non-factor – just eight points on 1-of-6 shooting – and the Lobos’ 2nd best player, Tony Snell, had a miserable night as well (4-of-12, 1-of-6 three-pointers).
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* The NCAA refers to it as the “3rd round” but we all know that’s silly.