Spokane, WA (SportsNetwork.com) - Wesley Saunders picked up 12 points as Harvard earned surprise postseason wins in back-to-back years thanks to a 61-57 decision over Cincinnati in second-round action in the East Region of the NCAA Tournament.
Laurent Rivard sank three triples en route to 11 points, and Siyani Chambers made key late free throws to account for his 11 points for the Crimson (27-4), the Ivy League champions and No. 12 seed who had knocked off New Mexico as a 14 seed last year.
"I've heard this before where there really aren't upsets anymore," Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker said. "There may be some surprises, but I just think when you're looking at seeds and if you're playing this time of year, you're probably a pretty good basketball team."
Harvard has another stiff test ahead, facing four-seed Michigan State on Saturday. The Spartans opened their NCAA course with a 93-78 decision over Delaware.
Sean Kilpatrick totaled a game-best 18 points for the Bearcats (27-7), who finished their season with four losses in their last seven games. Justin Jackson had 13 with 11 rebounds and Titus Rubles added nine points and as many boards in defeat.
Cincinnati, which claimed a share of the American Athletic Conference regular- season title, hasn't won an NCAA tourney game since topping Florida State in 2012.
Chambers calmly sank a long jumper and Harvard was up 56-53 with 1:57 left in regulation, then Kilpatrick was called for an offensive foul while driving up the right side along the baseline.
Rivard's triple try from the right wing rimmed out, then a lay-in by Rubles did the same, and the Bearcats received possession despite replays showing a Cincinnati player touched the ball before it rolled out of bounds.
Kilpatrick, however, coughed up the ball and fouled Chambers, who sank 1-of-2 to make it 57-53 with 36.6 showing. Kilpatrick then made his two attempts and it was a two-point spread with 29 seconds left.
Chambers was allowed a lane to drive to the basket, but Ge'Lawn Guyn committed the foul and Chambers hit two more from the line and it was 59-55. Jermaine Sanders airmailed an ill-advised long three on the next trip down the floor, then Saunders made his next two free throws to ice it at 61-55.
Jackson's layup in the final second made the score look a little better for the fifth seed.
"In my mind, today's game was anything but an upset," Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin said. "They've got a great team. Tough draw for us. In my opinion, they're one of the best teams we played all year."
Triples by Brandyn Curry and Chambers gave Harvard a 12-6 advantage just over eight minutes in, then after a timeout, Chambers sank 1-of-2 from the line after Cincinnati was called for a technical foul due to an illegal substitution.
Rivard was good from the right wing beyond the arc and it was 22-13 for the Crimson with just over seven minutes left in the half, before the Bearcats closed the gap to 24-23 after a steal and bucket from Troy Caupain with under four minutes left.
Rivard's next trey made it 29-25 for the underdogs, and his third of the game gave his squad some breathing room at 34-29. The Crimson led by seven at the break.
Steve Mondou-Missi's slam gave Harvard its largest lead of the contest at 42-33 just over three minutes into the second half, then Cincinnati struck back to close within 45-43 on a Rubles runner almost three minutes later.
Evan Cummins hit another shot in close and Kyle Casey's free throw bumped the Crimson's edge up to 51-43 with 8 1/2 minutes to play.
Jackson's hoop and foul shot whittled Cincy's deficit down to 51-49 as the clock ticked down to seven minutes left, but the Bearcats went cold until Kirkpatrick's long two made it 54-51 with 3:50 to go.
Harvard won the only other previous meeting of the programs, back in 1974 ... The Crimson became the first Ivy school to record wins in back-to-back years in the premier postseason tournament since Princeton did so in 1983 and '84 ... Neither team shot well from the field, with the Crimson 19-of-44 and the Bearcats 21-of-57 ... Cincy made 11 of its 16 free throws, while Harvard was good on just 17 of its 28 tries ... Jackson added a game-best four blocks in defeat.