After Lehigh (4-5) ran off five points in an 11-second span to pull within six of Harvard with 0:55 remaining, junior forward Matt Stehle threw a perfect baseball pass over the Mountain Hawks’ press to captain Jason Norman who finished the play with a thunderous two-handed jam.
“I was just relieving some frustration,” Norman said. “And trying to break the backboard. But it didn’t happen.”
The Crimson (3-6) added six free throws in the final 42 seconds for the 67-56 victory over Lehigh on Saturday at Lavietes Pavilion.
“Certainly for a road weary team, this was a terrific win,” Harvard coach Frank Sullivan said. “Our guys needed it desperately. We had just played four out of the last five on the road...and I commend our guys for picking the pieces up and finding a way to win this game.”
The win, which ran Harvard’s home record to 2-2, came without the presence of sophomore center Brian Cusworth, who sat out the game with a fracture in his left thumb. The seven-footer is expected to miss the Crimson’s next three contests and should return to the lineup against Dartmouth on Jan. 2.
“It hurts not having Cusworth, but it’s great to get this win and build some confidence for our team,” Norman said.
Despite missing its starting center, Harvard still managed to pull down 13 more boards than the Mountain Hawks, with Stehle and senior center Graham Beatty, who took Cusworth’s place on the floor, accounting for half of the Crimson’s 44 rebounds on the afternoon.
“We can’t get into too much foul trouble [inside],” Norman said. “We need Graham and Stehle to be out there. They did a great job rebounding the ball today, so as long as they keep it up we’ll be fine.”
Stehle’s 17 points and 13 boards gave him his fifth double-double of the season.
“Matt did an excellent job getting a little bit more,” Sullivan said. “He’s up in the top 15 in the country in rebounding right now, and I think he was determined to stay up in that area.”
Trailing 30-27 heading into intermission, Lehigh bolted out of the break, scoring 10 of the first 12 points of the half to take a 37-32 lead with just over 16 minutes remaining in the game.
Harvard immediately clamped down on defense, holding the Mountain Hawks without a field goal over the next 12:27, while the Crimson offense exploded, dropping in 22 points over that span to take a 54-42 lead with four minutes remaining.
“It’s definitely a sign of our team becoming more experienced, being able to handle a little run by the other team and then getting the game back in front of us,” said senior point guard David Giovacchini.
After two free throws by sophomore guard Jim Goffredo pushed the Harvard lead to 11 with 1:16 to play, Lehigh guard Mitch Gilfillan raced up the court and drilled a three-pointer to cut the deficit to 59-51. Junior forward Zach Martin had trouble inbounding the ball and was forced to take a timeout, only to have difficulty once again after the stoppage before being whistled for a five-second violation.
The Mountain Hawks capitalized on the turnover, as Gilfillan hit center Jason Mgebroff for a layup on a well-scripted out-of-bounds play to pull within six, 59-53. But the Norman dunk and four free throws by Stehle pushed the Crimson lead back to 12 and put the game well out of reach.