Tommy Amaker: ‘We Know The Challenge In Front Of Us In Michigan State’

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(Credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

(Credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

No. 12 Harvard had a surprising – or perhaps not-so-surprising – upset of No. 5 Cincinnati on Thursday, winning 61-57. The Crimson have now won an NCAA Tournament in back-to-back games, as last year they defeated New Mexico.

If you don’t think last year’s success influenced this year’s success, you had better think again.

“It really did,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said on The John Feinstein Show. “I think any time you have a positive point of reference, that’s kind of how we looked at it. We had been here before and we have done this. It’s not like me trying to convince them or sell them on it or some kid of pscyh job. It was just reminding them of the things that we’re able to do and how we’ve prepared for it.”

Still, there were some noticeable differences between this year and last – especially in terms of outside expectations.

“Last year, no one was thinking of us having the opportunity to do that,” Amaker said. “They were thinking of New Mexico because they were a dark horse team to possibly go to the Final Four, so people were looking at them as a trendy pick and selection, and I just thought we were able to slide under the radar and surprise them and obviously upset them.

“But I thought this year the tables were completely turned,” Amaker continued. “We were the trendy pick to provide this 12-versus-5 upset. And everyone was talking about us doing it again. So I was really concerned. Were we going to fall into those trappings of maybe what New Mexico fell into a year ago?”

No, they would not – even as their most important player, Siyani Chambers, had one of his worst games of the season. Chambers shot 2-of-10 from the floor and finished with 11 points.

Although, to be fair, Chambers made a huge jumper late and was 6-of-8 at the foul line.

“It was not a great performance stat-wise,” Amaker said, “but he’s our most important player.”

Harvard will face No. 4 Michigan State on Saturday in the Round of 32. Tip-off is slated for 8:40 EST.

Amaker was impressed by the way his team handled everything after winning on Thursday. He allowed his players to visit with friends and family, but after that, it was back to business.

“We wanted our guys to really enjoy the afternoon,” Amaker said. “By the time we met with them in the evening for dinner and our meeting, we need to feel like we’re on to the next thing – and I thought that was really telling for me last night. I sensed a difference in our kids from last night than I did a year ago. Obviously a year ago we just did it and it was the first time and first postseason win in the history of our program. But there’s a different feel about this group right now. I just think the mindset and the tone we set is something that can serve us well.”

A good game plan for Spartans big man Adreian Payne, who scored 41 points in Thursday’s 93-78 win over Delaware, would also serve Harvard well.

“We know the challenge in front of us,” Amaker said. “But I just feel like we’re going to come to compete and give it our best.”

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