The night after Columbia gave Harvard a sobering introduction to life without senior center Brian Cusworth, a young member of the Crimson’s frontcourt made the 1,500 fans in attendance at Lavietes Pavilion forget, at least for one game, the loss of the departed seven-footer.
In a seeming Ivy League mismatch, pitting the hottest team in the circuit in Cornell, winners of four straight and seven of its last eight, against a Harvard squad that had looked awful in every facet of the game in a 90-70 loss to the Lions, Crimson sophomore forward Evan Harris came up with a performance that turned the tables on the Big Red (11-9, 4-2 Ivy).
Harris finished with game highs of 18 points and 10 rebounds, and scored the winning basket on a layup off a pretty feed from point guard Drew Housman on the team’s final possession. Harris’s last two points put Harvard up 65-64 with eight tenths of a second to play, giving the Crimson (10-10, 3-3) a thrilling home victory and its best win of the league season.
Harris had perhaps the finest game of his career to date. On a night when the rest of the team uncharacteristically struggled shooting the ball, Harris converted 7-of-11 from the floor and 4-of-5 from the free-throw line. He also flooded the box score by adding three assists, two blocks and three steals.
“If you look at his stat line tonight, it’s a Matt Stehle [‘06] stat line—he’s got numbers in every column,” said Harvard coach Frank Sullivan, referencing the graduated two-time First-Team All-Ivy forward who led the Crimson in points, rebounds, steals, and blocks last year. “For Evan, in his sophomore year, to bounce back like that in an Ivy League weekend on Saturday night is special.”
Harris, who had just five points and three rebounds in Friday night’s blowout loss, kept Harvard in the game during a second half that nearly saw the Crimson squander a 14-point cushion.
While his teammates shot only 5-of-19 from the floor after the break, allowing Cornell to erase its large second-half deficit with a 15-0 run, Harris made six of his nine shots and scored 12 points in the final period to ensure Harvard emerged from the back-and-forth affair on top.
After Cornell had come all the way back from 41-27 down to take a 44-43 advantage with 11:15 to play, Harris scored six straight Crimson points to stem the Big Red tide.
The last of those came via an emphatic two-handed dunk on a breakaway, after Harris had helped force a turnover on the other end. The stuff re-tied the score at 49 apiece and helped fire up the unusually raucous fans in Harvard’s student section.
Those fans were on their feet down the stretch, again thanks to Harris’s play. With Harvard leading by 59-58 and 3:15 remaining, Cornell’s 6’10 center Andrew Naeve got open down low for what looked like an easy two points. But as the big man went up for the dunk, two Harvard defenders converged to contest the shot, and Harris got a hand on the ball to knock it away.
Harris then beat Naeve on the offensive end, scoring over the taller player with a lefty hook shot. On the next possession, Housman stole the ball from guard Louis Dale and fed a streaking Harris for another big two-handed dunk, which gave Harvard a 63-58 lead and brought the crowd to a frenzy.
“That’s huge, hearing people support you,” Harris said. “I just love when the crowd’s into it. Having a crowd like this at a home game is amazing.”
“We weren’t really used to that—we’re used to hearing the loud crowds on the road,” Housman added. “Our fans were awesome tonight. They were loud when we went on runs, and that kind of buoyed us.”
Harris’s big game represented an important step for the Crimson, which will need a low-post player to step up in Cusworth’s absence. For Harvard to have a chance of finishing with its first winning season since 2001-02—and its first winning record in league play since 1997—Harris will need to keep producing at Saturday’s rate.
“Once you’ve seen that you can do something, there’s no reason that you can’t do it again,” Harris said. “I definitely expect big things of myself, and I’m sure my teammates do, too. We all have to step up to replace a guy of Brian’s stature.”
—Staff writer Caleb W. Peiffer can be reached at email@example.com.