The thunderous cheering in Newman Arena was truly the sixth man on the court March 1, when the Cornell men's basketball team clinched the Ivy League championship title for the first time in 20 years by beating Harvard, 86-53.
The victory gave Cornell an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, which begins March 20 and 21. For Jason Hartford, the team's only senior, it's a childhood dream come true.
"Growing up, you watch the NCAA tournament on TV, and it's your dream to be a part of it," said Hartford, who was honored by teammates, coaches and fans before the game. "If you're a basketball player, getting to the NCAA tournament is the ultimate goal. Tonight we were fortunate enough to actually be able to do that."
Saturday's game was an 86-53 runout, with Cornell handing Harvard its 15th loss on the road this year. Cornell moved to 12-0 in Ivy League play before a capacity crowd at Newman Arena -- including Cornell President David Skorton.
The Big Red clinched its first Ivy League title since 1988, with two games remaining in the regular season. The previous night, Cornell also routed Dartmouth 75-59 before a nearly equally rambunctious Newman crowd, which allowed Cornell to clinch at least a share of the Ivy title.
On Saturday, the crowd did not let up all night. Some students donned T-shirts emblazoned with "Newman Nation." Many were hoarse by night's end, as they screamed for the Big Red from start to finish, also dutifully booing whenever a Harvard player touched the ball, and crinkling paper popcorn bags while Harvard shot its free throws.
Louis Dale '10, who elicits cheers of "Louuuuu" whenever the ball is in his possession, expressed his appreciation for the fans this year.
"It's been great this whole season, having people coming out and supporting us," Dale said. "It's overwhelming."
After the final seconds ticked down, throngs of students rushed onto the court to help celebrate the historic moment. They stuck around long enough to watch each player, and head coach Steve Donahue, cut down pieces of the basketball net as mementos of the championship. Queen's "We Are the Champions" blared in the background.
Cornell is undefeated in the Ivy League this season and 20-5 overall. They hope to put the finishing touches on a perfect conference season when they face off at Penn and Princeton, March 7 and 8.