For the second night in a row, the Harvard men’s basketball team failed to show up until the waning moments of the first half.
And that was plenty of time for Penn (14-6, 6-0 Ivy) to build an insurmountable lead, as the Quakers cruised to an 81-68 win over the Crimson at Lavietes Pavilion on Saturday night.
Harvard (12-9, 4-4) went scoreless for the first 6:32 of the contest, until a backdoor cut led to a layup and a foul for freshman point guard Drew Housman. That three-point play failed to spark the lifeless Crimson offense, as Harvard scored just four more points over the next seven minutes of the half.
“We should have been ready for it,” Housman said. “We can’t just let teams jump out on us like that. We let Boston College do that, and we just get buried when teams do that to us.”
A layup by Penn guard Ibrahim Jaaber, who finished the game with 23 points and six steals, put the Quakers up 15-5 with just under 11 minutes left until halftime.
Penn would lead by double-digits the rest of the way.
“It’s kind of a helpless feeling,” Harvard captain Matt Stehle said. “They’re an excellent defensive team, and we missed a lot of shots and rushed some shots.”
Crimson junior guard Jim Goffredo nailed two three-pointers to bring Harvard back within 12 with 4:27 left in the half, but the Quakers responded with a 10-2 run to expand their lead to 20.
“The start of the game was just the thing,” Harvard coach Frank Sullivan said, “that a team that had just lost two games at the buzzer did not need.”
Housman hit a three with 43 seconds left in the half to close the gap to 35-18 at the break.
The first half belonged to Penn forward Mark Zoller, who poured in 17 points in the opening period. He added nine more in the second for a career-high 26 points.
“You wish you could count on that every night,” Penn coach Fran Dunphy said. “But we’ll take it, and we’ll move on and prepare for Tuesday [against Princeton].”
After scoring just six points in the first half, Stehle exploded in the second. He posted eight points, an assist, a steal, and a rebound during a 10-3 run that made the score 41-28 early in the second half.
“Unfortunately, as a team, I wish we had that sense of urgency in the first half,” Stehle said. “Personally, I didn’t have it in the first half, and that really hurt us.”
The Crimson could not muster any defensive stops, however, as the Quakers used a 7-0 run to take their largest lead of the game at 65-41 with 7:48 to go.
But Harvard wasn’t finished just yet.
Trailing 69-48 with just over five minutes left, Stehle poured in eight points during a 10-0 Crimson run that brought the squad within 11 with 3:10 remaining.
“We might be one of the dumber teams in America sometimes,” Dunphy said. “We’re not sure how to close things out. All we had to do was keep the ball moving...but we didn’t do a good job with that.”
“You know they’re going to go on a run, and they’re going to make some tough shots,” Dunphy added.
Two Stehle defensive boards led to two Harvard fast breaks, but both ended in turnovers.
The final giveaway, which resulted from a Housman pass back through the lane that found no one, led to a fastbreak and a layup and one for Jaaber, ending any realistic hopes of a close finish.
Stehle’s final shot of the game, a missed three-pointer, left the captain two points shy of Harvard’s third 30-point game of the season. He finished with career highs in points (28) and steals (seven) and added 15 rebounds and four assists. It was the third time this season that Stehle fell just short of a triple-double bid.
The sweep at the hands of Penn and Princeton dropped the Crimson to fifth in the Ivies and ended the team’s realistic hopes of winning the league title.
“In 15 years here, that’s probably the most disappointed and crestfallen a group of guys that I’ve ever seen in that locker room,” Sullivan said.
—Staff writer Michael R. James can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.