And with the discovery that sophomore center Brian Cusworth would not return for Ivy League play, there seemed little hope that this young team could match the four conference wins last year’s team posted.
But that’s exactly what the Crimson are poised to do. After defeating Cornell 81-78 Saturday night in a back-and-forth game—which saw five lead changes or ties in the final five minutes and the biggest lead at any point only amount to seven points—the team now has as many league wins (3) as the 2002-’03 squad did at this point last season
Cornell (11-12, 6-4 Ivy) guard Ka’Ron Barnes had one final chance to tie the game after junior guard David Giovacchini—who tied his career high of fourteen points—hit both of his free throws to put Harvard up by three with 5 seconds left in regulation. But Barnes’ desperation shot from behind the arc bounced harmlessly off of the rim, and Cornell couldn’t control the rebound before time ran off the clock, securing the Crimson’s (4-19, 3-7) upset.
The victory also ruins the Big Red’s hopes for the Ivy title. Cornell had a shot of winning at least a share of tops in the Ancient Eight after Brown beat Penn on Friday night.
“You know it’s strange,” said sophomore forward Matt Stehle, who led Harvard with 15 points and nine rebounds. “We come back against teams that are supposed to better. Cornell’s supposed to be a lot better than Columbia, and we just played hard right down at the end of the game.”
Barnes’ last shot was one of several Cornell chances to tie in the waning minutes of the game. Though the team was down 77-72 with 46 seconds left, forward Lenny Collins nailed a three pointer to bring the Big Red within two points of Harvard with 28 seconds left. The trey was the last of Collins’ career high 31 points. His previous high was 19, a mark set the last time Cornell faced off against the Crimson.
Following a Big Red timeout, Stehle inbounded the ball to junior captain Jason Norman, who gave the ball back to Stehle. Thinking that Cornell was going to immediately foul him, Stehle initially held onto the ball, before trying to move it up the floor, and was called for traveling with 23 seconds left—turning the ball over to Cornell.
But rather than go for the tie and send the game into overtime, the Big Red went for the win after guard David Lisle found himself open in three point range in the corner of the court.
“I helped with [guarding] Collins but I should have been guarding the three point shooter because a two would not have [won it],” said Stehle. “I saw the ball go up and it looked like it was on course but I think [the ball] just nicked the rim. As soon as it came down I was like ‘whew’. But my heart definitely stopped for a second there.”
After two more free throws from junior guard Kevin Rogus—who finished with 12 points and hit four clutch free throws in a row in the final five minutes—Harvard was up by four, 79-75. But the league-leading scorer Barnes—who broke out of his shell in the second half to score 21 of his 27 points—had a three point play after Stehle fouled him on a basket he made to pull Cornell within one with 6 seconds left.
After Barnes made his shot from the charity strip, Harvard got the ball to Giovacchini, who was fouled and went on to his both of his free throws, ended the scoring for the match at 81-78.
“It’s a terrific win based on playing the toughest team, on the road, on the toughest weekend of the year,” said Harvard coach Frank Sullivan.
The Crimson was in danger of losing control of the game considering its personnel situation when Cornell tied the score 68-68 with 4:12 remaining in the fourth quarter. Sophomore guard Michael Beal had fouled out of the game at 5:12 and Rogus had just gone to the bench after falling hard on his already injured ankle twice, leaving two starters off of the floor.
But Giovacchini and freshman guard Jim Goffredo—who had 14 points in 26 minutes, both career highs for him—played magnificently off the bench, and managed to play for the remainder of the game despite foul trouble down the final stretch.
Giovacchini was also one of five Crimson players to score in double digits. The other four were Stehle, Rogus, Norman (13 points) and junior center Graham Beatty (10 points)
“We haven’t had [balanced scoring] all year,” Sullivan said. “It was just great to see the contribution from the bench.”
Harvard was also able to shut down the Big Red’s Cody Toppert, who came into the night second in the league in scoring (16.4 points per game). Toppert finished the night with just six points and was 2-13 from the field.
“We certainly dodged a bullet there,” Sullivan said.
The Crimson has four games left in its season, all against Ivy opponents.
—Staff writer Evan R. Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.