It’s still been fourteen years since anyone besides Penn or Princeton has won an Ivy crown, but this year, the rest of the league has caused teams to stand and take notice. Brown is the best team in Rhode Island this year after beating URI and Providence. Columbia put a scare into No. 17 UCLA last week. And last Wednesday night, Yale topped Clemson, pushing the Ivies’ record against the ACC this year to a respectable 2-2.
“Across the board, everyone’s played well,” Harvard junior forward Sam Winter said. “The bar’s been raised for what’s expected of Ivy teams.”
For Harvard’s part, the Crimson’s 3-2 performance over winter break assured the team of a .500-or-better non-conference record for the sixth time in the last seven years. But heading into last weekend, the one thing missing was a victory against a major or mid-major opponent that so many of the other Ivy teams had already secured.
The Crimson’s one shot at glory came on Dec. 28, when Harvard (8-5, 1-0 Ivy) met Pac-10 entry California in the opening round of the Golden Bear Classic. Barring a surprise postseason appearance by the Crimson in March, California—with its top-30 RPI ranking—is the premier opponent Harvard will face all year. The Bears hardly looked like it during last Friday’s game, but even with Cal’s 17 turnovers and 36 percent shooting, Harvard was still overmatched, falling 69-54. The Crimson had to settle for a consolation win the next night, claiming a 55-51 overtime decision against Coppin State.
On the plus side, even in its loss to Cal, Harvard’s defense held its course. For a smaller team, the Crimson’s rebounding has been reasonably steady as well, especially in the defensive end. But with the year half over, Harvard is still searching for a reliable second scoring option behind junior Patrick Harvey and the Crimson continues to perform inconsistently at the free-throw line. All of this means that Harvard’s fate against a now imposing looking Ivy slate—which begins in earnest tomorrow at Dartmouth, followed by visits from Penn and Princeton next weekend—is really anyone’s guess.
Harvard 55, Coppin State 51
When a game is on the line, Harvey has proven himself to be one of the most reliable go-to scorers in the Ivy League. But even he can’t do it all by himself. So, while his 24 points against California couldn’t prevent a double-digit loss, Harvey’s timely basket one night later—when combined with some clutch defense and rebounding by his teammates down the stretch—was enough to hold off Coppin State.
The Harvard shooting guard nailed a three with 2:41 remaining in overtime, and the Crimson defense upended Coppin State on each of its next three possessions as Harvard closed out the Golden Bear Classic with a 55-51 victory.
The three-pointer was Harvey’s first since the first half and gave Harvard a one-point edge after trailing 51-49.
Harvard, in fact, trailed in all three periods, but rallied back each time. When the Crimson faced a nine-point deficit in the opening minutes of the game, consecutive threes by Harvey and junior swingman Brady Merchant keyed a 12-2 run that gave Harvard a 14-13 advantage.
Then, after leading by as many five in the second half, Coppin State jumped ahead again with 11 minutes to play. The Crimson would not lead again for the remainder of regulation, but strong defense kept Harvard close. The Crimson forced 20 turnovers and made up for its own poor shooting by holding Coppin State to 30 percent from the field.
Finally, with just 27 seconds remaining in the second half, junior point guard Elliott Prasse-Freeman connected on a three to tie the game at 47 apiece.
After Harvey’s basket in the overtime session, the Crimson forced a turnover and two misses on Coppin State’s next three possessions. Harvard center Tim Coleman grabbed the rebounds off both missed shots, setting up free throws by Harvey and Prasse-Harvey that iced the game.
“It was a tight game and we just knew that we needed to clamp down at the end,” said Winter, who chipped in eight points to go along with a team-high seven boards. “Our ability to pull out the close games has definitely improved. That has a lot to do with our experience, I think.”