The Harvard men’s basketball team took advantage of an early 23-5 run to build a 14-point lead late in the first half against Cornell last night. But that advantage slowly evaporated before turning into a growing deficit as the Crimson (2-14, 1-2 Ivy) eventually fell 91-79 to the Big Red (8-8, 3-0).
Cornell shot 59.4 percent from the floor in the second half against the worst field-goal percentage defense in the Ivy League entering the night, while Harvard hit just a third of its 36 second-half shots.
“Certainly, we couldn’t guard the way we had to in the second half,” Crimson coach Frank Sullivan said.
That was the reverse of the game’s first 20 minutes, when Harvard shot 57.1 percent from the field and built a 39-35 lead.
Meanwhile, the Big Red hit at a 41.4-percent clip but kept itself in the game early with 16 second-chance points off eight offensive rebounds.
“The game was lost with our inability to limit them to a minimum number of shots,” Sullivan said.
The Crimson’s ability to contain point guard Ka’Ron Barnes significantly contributed to Cornell’s first-half struggles. The Ivy leader in scoring, assists and steals entering the night, Barnes was shooting just two-for-eight and didn’t have a single assist or steal at halftime.
The Big Red began to build momentum when shooting guard Cody Toppert converted a four-point play 2:47 into the second half to cut Harvard’s lead to one.
“The rhythm of the second half started because of that,” Sullivan said. “They got their rhythm going.”
That rhythm saw Cornell slowly but steadily pull away from the Crimson.
The Big Red hit all six of its free throws in the final minute to ice the contest.
Sophomore forward Matt Stehle had kept Harvard in the game early in the second frame, scoring the Crimson’s first 11 points after the break, but he picked up his third foul—a player-control foul—with 12:18 remaining and was replaced by sophomore forward Zach Martin.
The halftime margin could have been larger, but the Harvard offense came unglued after a layup by Martin gave the squad its biggest lead of the game at 35-21 with 5:20 to play in the first.
That bucket proved to be the Crimson’s last until a layup by freshman shooting guard Jim Goffredo fourteen seconds before halftime.
The Harvard drought coincided with the foul trouble of sophomore point guard Michael Beal who picked up his second foul 4:31 before the break and had to sit down.
The Crimson also twice missed on the front end of a one-and-one during the stretch.
Harvard’s run to take the lead began when the Crimson worked the ball around the perimeter and took advantage of the shot clock, culminating in a three-pointer by junior shooting guard Kevin Rogus that brought Harvard within three at 12-9 4:54 into the game.
Rogus followed with another trifecta and then Beal scored nine of the Crimson’s next 14 points.
Junior captain and small forward Jason Norman led Harvard early on, scoring its first six points.
Rogus and Big Red center Eric Taylor—the leading rebounder in the Ivy League entering the night—each picked up a technical after the two banged bodies just over six minutes into the second half.
That foul sent Taylor to the showers, but both teams saw key players struggle with their foul situations. Stehle fouled out in the game’s final minute, while Rogus, Beal, junior point guard David Giovacchini and Cornell power forward Gabe Stephenson—who trailed only Taylor for the conference rebounding lead entering the game—all finished with four fouls.
“We were in foul trouble all night,” Sullivan said. “It comes back to our inability to guard them and really put our hands on people.”
“Anytime that your team’s in foul trouble, it makes you kind of play a lot softer,” Beal said.
Despite the foul trouble, Stehle played 35 minutes and led the Crimson with 20 points—including an eight-for-nine performance from the free-throw line—and 16 rebounds with nine coming on the offensive end. The double-double was Stehle’s—and Harvard’s—third of the season.
As a team, the Crimson was 17-for-21 from the charity stripe for the game and 14-for-16 in the second half alone.
Toppert—who trailed only Barnes in the conference scoring race entering the night—and Barnes led all scorers with 23 and 22 points, respectively, while Rogus—who was third in the conference in scoring entering the game—finished with 19.
Small forward Lenny Collins matched Rogus with 19 points for the Big Red.
For Harvard, Norman finished with 15—11 coming in the first half—in a game-high 38 minutes, and Beal followed up his career-high 14 points in the Crimson’s last game—a 91-69 loss at Sacred Heart Jan. 14—with 13 more.
Harvard—which entered the game with the worst scoring defense in the Ivy League—gave up 91 points for the second consecutive game, while that figure represented a season high for Cornell, the highest scoring team in the conference.
The Big Red also put together a big comeback in its last game, overcoming a 13-point halftime deficit to beat Columbia 66-53 on Jan. 24.
—Staff writer Alan G. Ginsberg can be reached at email@example.com.