The Harvard men’s basketball team was powerless to pull out of its freefall on Friday night, losing to Brown 79-66 at Lavietes Pavilion.
The Crimson dropped its fourth straight league game, including the third in a row at home, to fall to 12-10 overall and 4-5 in the Ivies.
“We played in a funk,” captain Matt Stehle said. “It was like we had all just woken up from a long sleep.”
Just as in last week’s losses to Princeton and Penn, the Crimson struggled in the opening minutes, getting off to a sluggish start that had the team playing from well behind the entire night. In stark contrast to last month’s 75-58 win in Providence, in which Harvard outscored Brown 45-23 in the first half, Harvard looked listless against a revitalized Bears squad that out-hustled Harvard around the court, jumping out to a 10-3 lead four minutes into the game.
“We talked about having some pride tonight,” Brown coach Glen Miller said. “Harvard beat us twice last year and they thumped us the first game, and so we wanted to compete for forty minutes, and there’s no excuse for us not being able to win the hustle areas.”
The Crimson recovered from its initial malaise to cut the lead to 17-14, but a quick 9-1 run by Brown (8-14, 4-5) established the double-digit lead that the Bears would enjoy for most of the game’s remainder.
Continually getting to the basket with strong drives and crisp backdoor cuts, Brown outplayed Harvard at its own game, scoring 20 points in the paint in the first half to take a 37-24 lead into the break.
“They gave us what we gave them down [in Providence],” Crimson coach Frank Sullivan said. “Tonight Brown took us by surprise, because the game was all zone when we played them last time. We thought we would see zone, [but] we saw an aggressive man-to-man.”
Brown’s new-look defense held the Crimson to 33 percent shooting in the first half and 42 percent for the game, and Harvard’s continued misses helped fuel the Bears’ transition attack that produced 13 fast break points for the game.
Led by Stehle, Harvard fared better from the floor in the second half, as the lefty forward tallied the Crimson’s first six points after the break to close the deficit to nine. Brown answered the challenge in assertive fashion, again penetrating the Crimson defenses to score on four straight baskets that built the lead up to 16.
“Brown was able to get too close to the rim all night long,” Sullivan said. “The rim [was] too wide open.”
“We just got back-cut a whole lot...it looked like Princeton running a clinic,” Stehle said.
After freshman point guard Drew Housman’s three-pointer made it 48-35, a clearly frustrated Stehle drew a technical foul, leading to two free throws from Brown point guard Damon Huffman.
Forward Chris Skrelja buried a pullup jumper and added a three-pointer on the ensuing possession to widen the lead to 20 with 13 minutes left. Six minutes later, Skrelja drove baseline to give the Bears their biggest lead of the game at 69-45.
The Crimson finally turned it on down the stretch, and senior center Brian Cusworth’s layup with 3:26 remaining made it a twelve-point game.
The desperate run was launched too late to alter the outcome, however, and although Brown did not make a field goal the rest of the way, a 7-of-10 performance from the free throw line in the final minutes ensured the completion of the upset.
“[Brown] just pushed us around,” Stehle said. “They came into our gym and really just embarrassed us.”
Skrelja, a freshman forward with a season high of five points entering the game, had racked up 12 by halftime.
He finished with 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting to go along with 10 rebounds, also a career best. Swingman Keenan Jeppesen added 17 points, and Huffman had 13.
Junior shooting guard Jim Goffredo, who scored 30 points against Brown in the two teams’ last match up, led the Crimson with 18. Stehle had 16 on 6-of-15 shooting, while Cusworth recorded a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
The four-game losing streak is the longest for the Crimson on the season, and the most Harvard has lost in a row since the team dropped six straight between the end of the 2003-04 campaign and beginning of last year.
—Staff writer Caleb W. Peiffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.