For the second consecutive night, the Harvard men’s basketball team saw a 14-point first-half lead largely slip away by halftime before watching its opponent reverse its early shooting woes to pull away in the second half for a double-digit victory.
Saturday night, it was Columbia that came to Lavietes Pavilion and dealt the Crimson (2-15, 1-3 Ivy) a 78-67 conference loss just a night after Cornell came away with a 12-point victory.
As it did in Friday night’s game, foul trouble left Harvard at a disadvantage for most of the contest.
Sophomore power forward Matt Stehle picked up his second, third and fourth fouls in just over a minute of the second half, with the second of the three coming when he fouled Dalen Cuff on a three-point attempt. Cuff converted all three free throws.
Stehle’s fourth foul—the one that finally forced him to the bench—came right at the beginning of a 10-1 run that the Lions (6-11, 2-2) used to blow the game open and extend their lead to nine at 63-54 with 6:31 to play.
Stehle returned shortly thereafter, but fouled out after just 15 seconds.
Despite seeing more floor time with the Crimson starters in foul trouble, Harvard’s bench players failed to provide a boost, contributing just 10 points.
The Crimson substitutes also struggled to score against Cornell—tallying just 12 points—and in the game before that, a 91-69 loss at Sacred Heart Jan. 14, when it recorded just five points.
“We really have to continue to hope that our bench gets better, our bench can score some points for us more than anything and, more importantly, our bench can be effective defensively,” Harvard coach Frank Sullivan said.
After shooting just 36.4 percent in the first half—including a 3-for-15 performance from behind the arc—Columbia recovered by hitting at a 52.0-percent clip in the second half.
The Crimson had separated itself from the Lions with a 10-2 spurt late in the first half to extend its lead to 33-19.
But Columbia responded immediately, pulling back into the game by scoring nine consecutive points in a two-minute span.
Early in that stretch, sophomore point guard Michael Beal picked up his second foul—both came on the offensive end—and took a seat on the bench.
Harvard had built its initial advantage with 10 straight points—including five from junior captain and small forward Jason Norman—early in the game to take a 12-4 lead after just 3:40.
“I’m just trying to be more aggressive,” Norman said. “I’m just feeling … more confident going to the basket.”
Norman led the Crimson with a season-high 17 points, but Harvard continued its recent trend of enjoying balanced production from its starters.
Stehle and junior shooting guard Kevin Rogus each tallied 11 points, with Stehle adding a game-high eight rebounds and four blocks, while Beal and junior center Graham Beatty chipped in nine apiece. Beatty had eight points at halftime, but picked up his third and fourth fouls in the first 1:03 after the break and played only six minutes in the second half.
Rogus, Stehle, Norman and Beal each scored in double digits against both Cornell and Sacred Heart.
The Crimson, led by Norman, was able to limit the Lions’ forward Matt Preston—the fourth-leading scorer in the Ivy League entering the night—to just six points on 1-of-8 shooting, but forward Dragutin Kravic and guard Dalen Cuff picked up the slack with 21 and 16 points, respectively. Cuff was a perfect 9-for-9 from the free-throw line.
“[Containing Preston] was a big key for us,” Sullivan said. “We talked about not letting Preston dominate the game.”
“Jason kind of took the challenge on early,” Sullivan added. “I think he set the tempo.”
The two games represent Harvard’s first 0-2 performance against Cornell and Columbia in a weekend since the 1992-1993 season. The Crimson had taken at least one game in 21 consecutive weekends matching up with the two schools.
—Staff writer Alan G. Ginsberg can be reached at email@example.com.