ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Once the ball went up, all that work in the classroom didn’t mean a thing.
Except for a late, desperate rally, the Ivy League’s best wasn’t much of a match for the only private school in the Southeastern Conference. John Jenkins made all six of his late free throws and scored 27 points Thursday to help Vanderbilt hold off Harvard 79-70 in an East Regional game being called “The Brain Bowl.”
Vanderbilt’s senior-heavy group won its NCAA opener after going winless the last three appearances despite coming in seeded 4th, 4th and 5th. The Commodores (25-10) were a `5′ for this one, as well, but came in with a victory over top-ranked Kentucky last weekend and armed with plenty of lessons learned from past failures.
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They built an 18-point lead early in the second half and saw 12th-seeded Harvard (26-5) trim it down to five with 1:51 to go. But the Commodores went 8 for 9 from the line from there and won despite not making a field goal over the final 5:22.
On Saturday, Vanderbilt faces Wisconsin, a 73-49 winner over Montana, earlier at The Pit.
The Crimson (26-5) made the tournament for the first time since 1946, though this is clearly not your father’s Harvard — or even your grandfather’s.
Coached by Tommy Amaker, a Duke grad who knows how to blend academics and athletics, the Crimson notched an impressive win over Florida State early in the season, then held off the Ivy League’s more traditional powers, Penn and Princeton, to make the Big Show.
Laurent Rivard treated The Pit like his own backyard, finishing with 20 points on 6-for-7 shooting from 3-point range — many jacked up from well behind the line. But nobody else on Harvard shot well, and the Commodores built a lead that was too big to overcome. Kyle Casey scored 13 for Harvard, which shot 20 for 49 if you take out Rivard’s shots.
The most telling sequence came with just under 11 minutes left, when Vanderbilt missed four shots and got offensive rebounds on all of them. The possession ended when Jenkins hit a 17-footer and got fouled to set up a three-point play for a 56-42 lead.
Jeffery Taylor, who won a state title with Hobbs High School here at The Pit, finished with 15 points while, another senior, Festus Ezeli, grabbed 11 rebounds, blocked four shots and altered many more.