In the final home games for Harvard seniors Tim Coleman and Andrew Gellert, the men’s basketball team kept its infinitesimally small Ivy League title hopes alive with victories over Cornell and Columbia last weekend.
In two of its best defensive games of the season, the Crimson (14-10, 7-5 Ivy) held both opponents under 60 points, and generated over 20 turnovers in each game.
Playing by far his best games of the season, Coleman made key plays in both contests.
With the victories, Harvard clinches a winning season for the second straight year and is assured of at least a .500 Ivy record for the fourth straight year.
Harvard 59, Columbia 56
With the Crimson up by two, Gellert hit one of two free throws to give Harvard a three-point lead. After a Chris Wiedemann bucket pulled Columbia within one, junior gaurd Pat Harvey came through with two clutch free throws to seal the victory.
Neither team was able to take control in the first half, as the Crimson started the game by going inside to Winter and Coleman, opening up a 6-2 lead. However, the Crimson wasn’t able to find more open inside opportunities. Over the next 10 minutes of the first half, the teams traded buckets, with neither team pulling away by more than three points.
After a Craig Austin free throw put Columbia up 22-19, Harvard finally found some open shots. Keyed by a rejuvenated Harvey, the Crimson used a 19-6 run to open up an 11-point halftime lead, 38-27. Harvey scored 11 of his game-high 17 points in the first half.
But, like the Princeton and Yale games, Harvard saw its halftime lead evaporate quickly. Senior guard Treg Duerksen nailed a three-pointer and added another bucket to key a 12-2 Columbia run over the first 7:23 of the second half to pull Columbia within one.
The teams traded field goals, until Duerksen hit another three-pointer to tie the game at 45 with 8:40 left.
“We chose to focus on Austin, thinking it was one of his last games and he’d put more energy into it,” Harvard Coach Frank Sullivan said. “But you get a guy like Duerksen with a very good catch-and-release, and it’s difficult for Pat to defend him.”
Once again, the Crimson dominated on the boards, pulling down over 90 percent of all defensive rebounding opportunities. For the game, Harvard outrebounded the Lions 13-2 on the offensive glass.
“We did not anticipate that kind of defensive rebounding. It was a big break that truly helped us,” Sullivan said.
Harvard’s frontcourt combination of junior forward Sam Winter, Coleman and junior center Brian Sigafoos added 29 points and 18 rebounds. Coleman barely missed his second double-double of the weekend, pulling down 10 points and 9 rebounds.
Perhaps most shocking was the play of Sigafoos, who was able to avoid foul trouble en route to his 10-point performance.
“Brian did a good job defensively and his awareness was very good tonight,” Sullivan said.
Harvard 55 Cornell 46
After an Elliott Prasse-Freeman jumper gave the Crimson an early 2-0 lead, Harvard’s shooters went cold. The Big Red held the Crimson scoreless for a 5:39 span and built up a seven-point lead with a 9-0 run.
“Our confidence was shattered losing three games in a row...so we came in a little tentative,” Sullivan said.
But Cornell was equally bad shooting the ball, allowing the Crimson to climb back into the game despite shooting just 28.9 percent in the half.
Harvard experimented with over 10 different lineups in the first half, as no combination was able to score consistently.
“Because we were so slow getting out of the gate. I thought I’d give everyone a chance,” Sullivan said. “Nothing was stable. I was just trying to generate energy giving the guys off the bench a shot.”
Right out of the gate in the second half, the Crimson found its scoring touch and stabilized its lineup. Harvard opened the second half with a 13-2 run and seemed to finally be breaking away from the Big Red.
But, in a scene eerily reminiscent to Mike Bechtold’s outburst for Princeton and Andrew Toole’s offensive explosion for Penn, Cornell guard Jacques Vigneault went on a personal 11-0 run to bring Cornell back within three at 34-31. Cornell would continue to claw back, and a three pointer by Ka’Ron Barnes would put the Big Red down only one at 40-39, with 8:21 left in the game.
But that would be as close as the Big Red would get as the Crimson capitalized on a 13-4 run to put the game away.
Harvard’s big men dominated the second half, converting on easy inside opportunities. Winter scored 10 of his game-high 12 points in the second half, and Coleman added nine of his 11 points. The 6’8 senior from Bellevue, Wash., finished the game with a double-double, pulling down a game-high 12 rebounds.
The inside contributions offset a tough outside shooting night for the Crimson. As a team, the Crimson made just one three-pointer in 13 attempts, and Harvey, Harvard’s scoring leader in each of the last 12 games, managed just six points on 3-of-10 shooting.
“If Pat’s not going to be able to generate these three-pointers for us from behind the line, there is another way to get three points on a possession and that would be from the low post,” Sullivan said. “And Sam and Tim were effective from the low post.”