PROVIDENCE, R.I.--Heading into the weekend, the Harvard men's basketball team was poised to sweep Yale and Brown, formerly the Ivy's easiest road trip, and stay undefeated in the league.
Instead, the Crimson (7-9, 2-2 Ivy) returned to Cambridge in a mess after losing to Yale Friday night, 69-61, and dropping a 78-68 decision to Brown Saturday. The losses leave Harvard in the middle of the pack, while the Bulldogs and the Bears make an unlikely pair of first-place teams.
Brown 78, Harvard 68
The Bears (5-7, 2-0), coming off a win over free-falling Dartmouth the previous night, found a way to overcome the height advantage it gave to Harvard: let freshman swingman Earl Hunt find his spots and create havoc from the outside.
With Harvard defenders overplaying and leaving him open in the corners, Hunt scored 30 of his game-high 39 points in the first half. Hunt took 14 of his team's 24 first-half shots, going 4-of-5 from beyond the arc and 8-of-9 from the free-throw line. He also scored the last 16 points for Brown to turn a six-point deficit into a 40-37 halftime lead.
"I've been doing this for 28 years, and I've never seen a guy get 30 in a half," said Harvard coach Frank Sullivan. "[Hunt] was in rhythm, he was smooth."
The Crimson managed to stay in it in the first half largely on the play of junior center Tim Coleman, who bullied his way down low for 14 points in the half. Coleman's four offensive rebounds also led to Harvard's fourteen second-chance points.
Freshman point guard Elliott Prasse-Freeman was also impressive, hitting Coleman on lob passes underneath and finding backdoor cutters for easy baskets. He finished the first half with seven assists and only three turnovers.
Harvard was able to better solve Hunt in the second half, holding him to only nine more points, all on free throws. But fellow freshman Alaivaa Nuualiitia scored six from the inside, adding a block and two steals, and backup guard Jesse Wood provided the outside points, scoring 12 points in 16 minutes.
The story in the second half for Harvard was its continued lack of good shooting and poor crunch-time decision-making. Captain Damian Long was only 4-of-15 (2-of-8 from three point range) from the floor and fouled out.
No Crimson player shot better than 50 percent. Coleman was largely ineffective in the second half in terms of points scored, as he had few good inside shots and finished with 18 points.
Prasse-Freeman also cooled off, turning the ball over six times in the second half with only one assist. Drew Gellert and Brady Merchant, the Crimson's other two guards, also were unable to provide any offensive spark.
But the most telling statistic wasn't rebounds or turnovers. Brown went to the free-throw line almost twice as often as Harvard did, and Hunt's 19 attempts alone were more than the entire Harvard team's 18 shots. The Bears converted 29-of-35 (82.9 percent) and those points provided the margin of victory. After Harvard closed to 64-62 with 5:18 to play, the Bears hit 11 of their last 12 attempts from the line.
"Certainly, beating Dartmouth in the first two games made us too comfortable," Sullivan said. "We manifested our youth today. We weren't efficient with the ball."
Yale 69, Harvard 61
Stuck in a bus for five-and-a-half hours, the ride to New Haven was a little rough for the Crimson.
Unfortunately, the welcoming at Yale was even rougher.
After the game was delayed an hour due to Harvard's late arrival, the Bulldogs (4-10, 2-0) took full advantage of their road-weary opponents, handing the Crimson its first Ivy league loss, 69-61 on Friday night.
Led by the outside shooting of sophomore guard Onaje Woodbine, who netted 28 points and drained 5-of-8 from beyond the arc, Yale jumped out to an early lead on the strength of its three-point shooting and never looked back.
"Before tonight, Woodbine hadn't been draining threes like that, and I think his three-point shooting fueled Yale," Sullivan said. "He got off to a terrific start and then made free throws down the stretch."
In the first half, the Bulldogs scored more than half their points on threes, nailing 6-of-13 from beyond the arc to take a 32-26 lead into halftime.
Coleman led the Crimson in scoring, picking up a double-double with 18 points and 12 rebounds.
Shooting 8-of-17 from the field, Coleman had another big night scoring for Harvard, although he turned the ball over six times and only made one trip to the line.
"The five-hour bus trip was definitely a factor," Sullivan said. "We struggled getting are legs early and never found them."
Sparked by Long, however, who had 17 points, including 13 in the final five minutes, the Crimson made the game interesting down the stretch.
Down 56-46 with a little over four minutes remaining in regulation, Harvard cut the lead to three on the strength of a 9-2 run.
Taking a pass at the top of the key, Long drove wide around a pair of Bulldogs, and converted the three-point play after drawing a foul on the layup.
Capitalizing on a Woodbine turnover, the Crimson came storming down the court as Long hit a wide-open three off a feed from Prasse-Freeman.
"Damian is an important part of the team," Sullivan said. "He has taken up Dan Clemente's role and made huge shots for us down the stretch."
After Woodbine nailed a pair of free throws to re-establish a six-point lead, it was Prasse-Freeman's turn to step up, draining the three and narrowing the score to 58-55.
However, that was as close as the Crimson would come to taking the lead.
Although Yale did not score a field goal in the final five minutes, the Bulldogs nailed their free throws down the stretch and put the game away from the line.
Led by Woodbine and junior center Neil Yanke, who combined to shoot 12-of-12 from the line in the last five minutes, Yale scored its final 15 points on free throws. The Bulldogs made 19-of-27 from the stripe in the second after not attempting a single free throw in the first.
However, it was not as though Harvard didn't have chances of its own to win the game.
Down by only six at the half, the Bulldogs came out of the locker room shooting rocks and scoring only twice in the first eight minutes of the second half.
The Crimson was unable to take advantage of Yale's woes, however, turning the ball over four times and scoring only six points to open the second half.
"This was a difficult loss," Sullivan said. "With our youth and inexperience, however, it was an important learning experience. It was are first Ivy League road trip and the team will benefit from the seasoning."