One game after erasing an 18-point deficit in a win at Central Connecticut State Thursday night, the Crimson (7-4) won its fifth straight road game in stunning fashion, storming back from nine points down in the second half to defeat the favored Vermont Catamounts (5-5) in overtime, 84-76.
The win over Vermont, a team that defeated then-No. 14 Boston College on the road earlier this season, gave the Crimson its sixth win in the last seven games and gave Harvard’s players their biggest reason for celebration yet this year.
“This is our biggest win, just because we were on the road, and what they’ve done [earlier this year], and it went to overtime,” freshman guard Jeremy Lin said. “They’re a very quality team, so I felt like this was the biggest win of the season.”
Playing in front of a packed house of 2,327 vocal fans at Patrick Gym in a game that was televised locally on CN-8, Harvard executed big play after big play down the stretch to keep the game close and eventually overtake Vermont.
Most of those plays came from sophomore point guard Drew Housman, who scored a career-high 25 points to go along with a season-high five assists, and senior center Brian Cusworth, who matched Housman’s scoring effort and added a career high-tying 16 rebounds.
The duo combined to net the first three points of the extra session on free throws, and after Vermont guard Kyle Cieplicki pushed it back to a one-point game with a jumper, Cusworth converted a pretty feed from Lin to make it 74-71.
Catamounts forward Joe Trapani was then called for a crucial traveling violation, leading to a play from Housman that epitomized his career game. The point guard, who took over the game in the second half with his drives to the hoop, sliced from the top of the arc to the basket to make it 76-71 with a minute and a half remaining.
The Crimson did not finish off the win without a scare, however. Cusworth fouled out attempting to grab a rebound with a little over a minute left, and after a series of free throws, Lin traveled attempting to break the full-court press, giving the ball back to Vermont with 49 seconds left and the Catamounts needing only a three-pointer to tie the score at 78.
The Crimson’s defense, which held Vermont to 1-of-5 shooting in overtime, dug in on the perimeter. Several defenders pushed out to the arc to pressure Trimboli as he attempted an opening. Driving to his left around the pressure, the sophomore point guard lost the handle, one of his six turnovers on the game and a season-high 28 by Vermont overall. The ball squirted to an eager Goffredo, who drove the length of the floor and drew a foul. Harvard’s captain, the Crimson’s best from the line at 91 percent entering Sunday, made sure the ball was in his hands the rest of the way, hitting 6-of-8 free throws to ice the victory.
The Crimson was only able to reach overtime thanks to a gutsy second-half comeback. Trapani, a freshman who entered Sunday as Vermont’s leading scorer with 13.4 ppg, hit his third and fourth three-pointers of the game in rapid succession early in the second half, giving the Catamounts their largest lead at 49-40 and sending the crowd into a frenzy.
Those were the last three pointers that Vermont would make, however. After Harvard coach Frank Sullivan called a timeout, the Crimson ran off a 12-3 run to tie the game at 52, a stretch highlighted by three-pointers from Goffredo and Housman and three critical offensive foul turnovers on the Catamounts.
“Our whole team showed a lot of poise,” Housman said. “They would go on runs, and the crowd would be going crazy, but we just would be able to fight right back. That showed a lot about our team.”
The teams battled back and forth from that point—there were eight ties and six lead changes in the second half alone—until an emphatic put-back dunk by 6’11 Vermont center Chris Holm over Cusworth gave Vermont a 65-60 lead with under six minutes to play.
As he has on numerous occasions this year, however, Cusworth responded to the affront. He scored seven of the Crimson’s next nine points, including a huge tip-in off Housman’s missed runner, that allowed Harvard to pull even at 69 apiece and send the game to overtime.
“He had the confidence in himself to make a play,” Sullivan said. “The guys on the team had the confidence and the patience to get him the basketball. We had a couple nice post feeds to him. Big, big shots—it was just great to see.”
Before Sunday’s victory, the Crimson had not won five straight on the road in a single season since 1984-85. Harvard will return home to Lavietes, where the team is 2-3, to face Sacred Heart on Wednesday night. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.
—Staff writer Caleb W. Peiffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.