Vanderbilt entered this year’s NCAA tournament riding a hot streak after beating Kentucky for the Southeastern Conference tournament title last weekend, and the Commodores showed no signs of slowing down until the waning moments Thursday.
In an East Region round-of-64 game in Albuquerque between two teams known more for their academics than any sort of prowess on the court, No. 5 seed Vanderbilt built a double-digit lead and then held on late for a 79-70 victory over No. 12 seed Harvard. The Commodores will face No. 4 seed Wisconsin on Saturday in the round of 32.
Vanderbilt led by 18 points in the second half but watched its edge dwindle to five when Harvard went on a 14-3 run that ended with less than two minutes remaining. But the Commodores hit eight straight free throws down the stretch to avoid a monumental collapse.
Noted for its outside shooting, Vanderbilt came out firing and finished with eight three-pointers. Guard John Jenkins led the charge with a game-high 27 points. The Commodores also outrebounded Harvard, 35-22, and had three players finish in double figures. Guard Brad Tinsley chipped in with 16 and forward Jeffrey Taylor added 15 points.
Vanderbilt shot better than 54 percent from the floor but ended the game without a field goal over the final 5 minutes 32 seconds. That proved to be enough against a Crimson squad making its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1946 under Coach Tommy Amaker.
Harvard got a team-high 20 points from guard Laurent Rivard, including two three-pointers during the Crimson’s late surge. But Harvard never led after taking a 17-16 lead with less than seven minutes remaining in the first half, and entered halftime facing a 10-point deficit it wouldn’t be able to recover from.
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