It was a fitting ending to a rough night for the Crimson, which fell at home to Yale, 88-78, to drop a game under .500 on the season. Harvard (8-9, 1-2 Ivy) has struggled with its defense all year, entering the game last in the Ivy League in field goal percentage allowed, and the Crimson hit bottom in that department, letting the Bulldogs (6-10, 2-1) shoot a season-high 58.3 percent from the floor, including a scalding 62.5 percent before halftime.
Harvard, despite that statistic, actually held a 40-37 halftime lead. But by the intermission, the momentum of the game was already pointing in the Bulldogs direction. Harvard led by as many as 13 with eight minutes gone by—thanks mostly to a sterling offensive half from senior center Brian Cusworth, who dropped in 17 points in the period. But a late Yale run, combined with a technical foul assessed to Harvard coach Frank Sullivan in protest of a non-foul call on freshman point guard Drew Housman’s last-second shot, transformed the positive feelings into those of apprehension.
“The first half, we came out a little sluggish,” said Yale point guard Eric Flato. “We really tried to buckle down and get a little tougher [in the] second half—better execution, better effort. It took us a while to wake up.”
Wake up Yale did, as Flato nailed both technical free throws to open the second half, and on the next possession forward Caleb Holmes buried a jumper. That made the score 41-40 Bulldogs, their first advantage since early in the first half.
Yale would never relinquish that lead. The Bulldogs ripped off a 12-2 run to open the second half, establishing a lead which did not sink below four the rest of the night.
The Bulldogs, lacking their captain, injured power forward Sam Kaplan, nevertheless managed to out-rebound the Crimson, 29-28, and outscore them in the paint, 46-40. Harvard’s help defense was severely lacking—Yale players were repeatedly able to get the ball down low, and when they shook their defenders, as happened on numerous occasions, there was no one else there to defend against easy baskets.
“Guys get blown by on a closeout—we work in practice all the time on the next person stepping up and being there, but I don’t think we were there,” Cusworth said. “It was a lot of individual mindsets—‘Don’t mess up on my guy.’ The help defense definitely wasn’t what it was supposed to be.”
Harvard’s shoddy defense also created an advantage for Yale at the free-throw line, as the Bulldogs’ ability to beat their defenders forced the Crimson to resort to fouling. Harvard committed its seventh team foul midway through the period, putting Yale in the one-and-one free-throw bonus, and gave Yale the double-bonus by committing a 10th foul at the 6:14 mark.
Yale was thus able to hold off the Crimson down the stretch at the free-throw line. The Crimson cut a 61-51 Yale lead down to 64-61 with 6:12 to play, thanks to seven points from Cusworth to go along with a three-pointer by Housman. But two consecutive Harvard fouls led to four straight made free throws by Holmes, extending the lead back to seven. The Bulldogs continued to capitalize from the line—after beginning the game 10-of-24, they made their last 19 free throws, and 14 of Yale’s final 16 points of the game came from the stripe.
The bright spot for Harvard was the play of Cusworth, who scored a career-high 28 points in his second-to-last game as a member of the Crimson. Cusworth’s scoring output pushed him past the 1,000-point mark for his career, making him only the 23rd player in Harvard history to reach that figure. With four NBA scouts in attendance to watch his play, the seven-footer also hauled down a game-high 10 rebounds, recording his third straight double-double and sixth on the season.
However, outside of the spurt late in the period that pushed Harvard within three, Cusworth was largely held in check in the second half thanks to more consistent defensive pressure in the form of double-teams. And when Yale clamped down on the big man, no one else was able to step up for Harvard to carry the team back into the game. Bulldogs guard Casey Hughes, in addition to scoring 16 points on 8-of-10 shooting, shut down Crimson captain Jim Goffredo with stifling defensive pressure, holding the shooting guard to nine points on 3-of-10 shooting. Housman scored 16 points, but five of those came in the game’s final minute, with the outcome already decided.
—Staff writer Caleb W. Peiffer can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.