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Harvard stuns New Mexico for first-ever NCAA win

SALT LAKE CITY -- Last year, Harvard product Jeremy Lin took the basketball world by storm with the movement known as "Linsanity."

The NBA player's alma mater had its turn Thursday night.

Wesley Saunders hit two late clutch free throws and scored 18 points, and Laurent Rivard made five 3-pointers en route to 17 points, leading 14th-seeded Harvard to a 68-62 upset of third-seeded New Mexico on Thursday in the NCAA Tournament's West Region.

The Crimson started strong, going up 9-2, and maintained the lead for nearly the whole night to make the most of their second straight NCAA appearance after a 66-year tourney drought. The NCAA win was the first in Harvard history.

"I'm exceptionally proud of our guys," Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. "They had to believe, and we talked about preparation, we talked about passion and we talked about belief. We battled a really good basketball team in a tough environment."

Harvard will face Arizona in the third round Saturday after pulling off Thursday's biggest upset.

"It means the world to our team," Rivard said. "Last year, we made it for the first time since 1946 to the NCAA Tournament. We lost to Vanderbilt in a tough game, but this year we wanted to come back and, you know, get a win. First time (in) school history. (It) can't get bigger than that."

New Mexico center Alex Kirk had 22 points and 12 rebounds, and Cameron Bairstow added 15 points and nine boards, but it wasn't enough for the Lobos to avoid being just the 17th No. 3 seed to fall in its opening game in tournament history.

"People were picking us to do this and that, and I thought our focus was a little off," New Mexico coach Steve Alford said. "I thought Harvard did a lot of things to take advantage of that. We had a tough shooting night and they didn't, and I think that's what resulted in the loss."

To that point, four Harvard players scored in double figures and the Crimson shot 52.4 percent from the field to pull off the shocker.

The Lobos were flat as could be in the first half, and they shot only 37.5 percent from the field for the game, including 3-for-14 from 3-point range.

Harvard went 16-for-20 from the free-throw line in the second half after not getting a foul shot in the first half. Saunders clinched the win for the Crimson, hitting two free throws with 17.3 seconds to go.

"It feels amazing. It feels absolutely amazing," Harvard center Kenyatta Smith said. "In as season (when) we were expected to do nothing because of things that haven't gone our way, we weren't expected to win the Ivy (League), but we did that by the grace of God, and that just continued into the tournament."

After a rough first half -- when New Mexico shot 35.7 percent from the field -- the Lobos came out strong to begin the second half.

Kirk, Bairstow and Tony Snell hit consecutive baskets to give New Mexico its first lead of the night at 33-31 with 18:46 left.

The Lobos again went ahead at 53-52 on a Kirk layup with 6:30 left.

However, Rivard answered with a 3-pointer nine seconds later. Saunders and Smith then drained jumpers during an 8-0 run as relentless Harvard worked its lead back up to 59-53.

Chambers gave the Crimson more breathing room with a jumper with 2:15 remaining.

Moments after his school's win, Lin, now with the Houston Rockets, took to Twitter (@JLin7) to celebrate, posting a photo of himself in a Harvard basketball shirt doing the popular "3-point goggles" pose with this tweet: "YYYYYEEEEESSSSSSSSS!!! HARVARD winssss!!! hahahahhah i told you.... #threepointgoggles #bracketbusters."

New Mexico looked much more like a lower seed in the beginning, and Harvard grabbed an early lead and took a 31-27 advantage into halftime.

The Lobos went 0-for-6 from the field to begin the game and missed 11 of their first 12 shots.

New Mexico fought back to tie it at 16 after a 6-0 run, but Harvard re-established its edge with an 8-2 burst that included two 3-pointers by Christian Webster.

NOTES: Harvard's Corbin Miller played for Brighton High School in the Salt Lake City suburbs. Miller, however, left the Ivy League program after his freshman season to serve a two-year mission in Puebla, Mexico, for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "Corbin, we miss him," Amaker said. "As fate would have it, we are here in his hometown, so to speak, to have an NCAA Tournament game, and he's not able to be here with us." ... The Lobos have only two seniors, Chad Adams and Jamal Fenton, and neither started. ... New Mexico was 4-1 in the Utah Jazz's building before Thursday, including winning the WAC tournament in 1993.