All of 19 seconds into the first half of Friday night’s game against Princeton, the Harvard women’s basketball team forced Tigers star Becky Brown into a bad decision.
Brown’s turnover on the game’s opening possession nonetheless proved to be one of her few miscues on Friday, as the 6’3 center decimated the Crimson defense with 23 first-half points en route to Princeton’s 70-55 win at Jadwin Gym.
“If one player scores 23 points in the first half, that’s what’s going to hurt you, no matter who else is out there,” sophomore guard Lindsay Hallion said. “That was very frustrating, especially to feel that somebody is almost unstoppable. We know we just didn’t get the job done, and that’s even more frustrating.”
It was the first win by Princeton (14-5, 5-1 Ivy) over Harvard in the teams’ seven previous meetings and just the Tigers’ second victory in the last 13 games between the squads.
Harvard (8-12, 4-3 Ivy) came into the game on a high after a home sweep of Columbia and Cornell last weekend, but a week’s worth of scouting on Brown evaporated within minutes on Friday. Brown scored Princeton’s first 10 points and 21 of the team’s first 28 in a dominant first half.
“Our game plan was to not give her the looks she was used to close to the basket,” freshman forward Katie Rollins said. “I was defending her, and I definitely didn’t follow that game plan. She made five shots in a row early and got confident, and that momentum really carried her.”
As Brown displayed a bevy of effective low-post moves and manhandled the Harvard defense, the Crimson put together a strong offensive first half, shooting 48 percent from the floor and even stealing a one-point lead on freshman Niki Finelli’s layup with 8:28 minutes remaining. That 22-21 advantage, however, was the last that Harvard would take all night.
The Tigers reeled off a 10-2 run, sustained by seven points from Brown, after Finelli’s layup pushed the lead to 31-24 with just under five minutes to go in the opening frame.
“We were prepared going into the game,” Harvard co-captain Maureen McCaffery said. “We knew that Princeton’s whole focus was on their inside game. We were doing what we were supposed to be doing. We were physically there, but we didn’t take the extra step in term of help defense to stop her.”
The Crimson held Brown to just four second-half points, but ice-cold shooting from the field, coupled with a poor performance on the boards, evaporated any chance of a second-half comeback.
After a Katie Rollins layup brought Harvard to within five at 48-43 with 8:09 remaining, the Crimson went without a point for a crucial five-minute span in the game’s final stretch. Over those five minutes, Harvard turned the ball over three times and botched two crucial layups.
When Rollins’ free throw trickled in at 3:21 to end the drought, the Crimson was staring at a 55-44 deficit. A steal-foul attempt by Harvard put the Tigers on the line 13 times in the final two minutes, but Princeton went a perfect 13-of-13 from the charity stripe to bury any Crimson hope of a last-second comeback in New Jersey.
“We’ve been having a hard time putting two halves together,” Rollins said. “We were in too big of a hole in the second half.”
Despite the shaky defensive effort, Rollins led Harvard with 18 points and 7 rebounds on 6-of-9 shooting from the floor and a 6-of-10 mark from the line. Senior guard Laura Robinson also cracked double figures with 10 points, including two three-pointers.
Brown’s 27 led the Tigers, while sophomore forward Meagan Cowher finished with 14 points.
—Staff writer Aidan E. Tait can be reached at email@example.com.