Kenyatta Smith, Harvard revel in upset tournament victory

Though not in class Thursday, a group of Harvard University student-athletes surprisingly managed to earn high marks.

The Harvard men’s basketball team caught the nation’s attention after pulling off a shocking victory in the second round of the NCAA West Regional Tournament and making program history.

It featured a local tie in Kenyatta Smith, a Flintridge Prep graduate who helped the Rebels win the CIF Southern Section Division V-AA championship in 2011.

Smith finished with 10 points, seven rebounds and two blocks to help 14th-seeded Harvard register a 68-62 upset win against third-seeded New Mexico in Salt Lake City. It marked the first time that Harvard, coached by Tommy Amaker, won a tournament game in its history.

New Mexico, which won the Mountain West Conference crown, was considered one of the favorites to win the NCAA championship.

Smith and Co. went out and shattered New Mexico’s title aspirations, while also busting up tournament bracket sheets.

“It’s just amazing and a great feeling,” Smith, a sophomore forward, told the university website on video. “We’ve been working hard all season and it’s culminated in this.

“We have faith in our offense and trusted our defense.”

Harvard, which won the Ivy League championship to earn an automatic postseason berth, improved to 20-9. The Crimson will meet sixth-seeded Arizona (26-7) in a round-of-32 game at 3:10 p.m. PDT Saturday in Salt Lake City.

Smith made an eight-foot shot with 4:40 to go to give Harvard a 59-43 advantage. Smith converted on a pair of free throws to give Harvard a 61-55 lead with 3:03 left in the contest. He fouled out with 48 seconds left, but Harvard owned a 64-58 advantage.

The Crimson became the first Ivy League program to win a tournament game in three years. In 2010, Cornell accomplished the feat, reaching the regional semifinals.

Flintridge Prep Coach Garrett Ohara watched the entire game, hoping Smith, a former All-Area Boys’ Basketball Player of the Year and Glendale News-Press Athlete of the Year, would have some sort of impact for the Crimson.

“He made some key shots and blocks that helped Harvard,” Ohara said. “They were timely contributions, like making those free throws toward the end.

“He’s come a long way since the beginning of the season. He was on the bench then. You couldn’t take that grin off his face. It’s like me being a proud father watching him play well. To win a tournament game on the biggest stage is something very special.”

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