Harvard won the tip, then threw the ball out of bounds when junior forward Matt Stehle drove and failed to connect with junior center Brian Cusworth underneath the basket.
Penn followed suit, with guard Eric Osmundson turning the ball right back over to the Crimson. The capacity crowd had witnessed two turnovers, and the game was just 23 seconds old.
The early nerves were an indication of the huge importance of the matchup, with the Quakers trying to put a stranglehold on the Ivy League while Harvard battled to avoid its third loss.
The Crimson finished the game with an abysmal eight assists to 22 turnovers, while Penn posted 14 of each.
“I can’t say it was their defense that did it,” said Cusworth about his team’s sloppy play, “because we had 22 turnovers to their eight steals. Fourteen of those turnovers were unforced.”
Stehle was responsible for seven of those giveaways and played just 25 minutes because of foul trouble. He still managed 14 points on 6-for-10 shooting.
He also had a key basket in Harvard’s final push midway through the second half. After the Quakers took their biggest lead of the game at 53-39, sophomore guard Jim Goffredo nailed a three. On the Crimson’s next possession, Stehle missed a jumper, then followed his shot and scored on a graceful tip-in to bring the deficit back to single digits.
Turnovers, however, would seal Harvard’s fate. Just one minute later, senior point guard David Giovacchini had the ball stolen by Penn guard Ibrahim Jaaber, who dished it upcourt to a wide-open Jan Fikiel. Fikiel slammed the ball home to increase the Quakers’ lead to 59-46 and effectively put an end to the Crimson’s hopes.
The Crimson received positive contributions from several reserve players—one of the bright spots of the night.
“I thought our bench really did a good job,” Harvard coach Frank Sullivan said. “We had better bench scoring than Penn did tonight.”
The Crimson reserves scored 26 points overall, compared to just 12 for the Quakers.
Junior forward Zach Martin played 19 minutes and scored 10 points. He shot 3-for-5 from the field, including 2-for-3 from behind the arc. Goffredo scored 10 points in just 13 minutes, hitting two big three-pointers.
Junior guard Michael Beal, meanwhile, saw 16 minutes of action and had five rebounds to go along with three assists and four points.
Penn, on the other hand, relied little on its bench, but fatigue did not seem to be an issue.