The ball ended exactly at the stroke of midnight for the Harvard women’s basketball team.
Playing in the Hartford Civic Center, the Crimson (15-13) was eliminated from the Big Dance by defending champion Maryland (28-5) by a score of 89-65, snapping a 12-game win streak.
In the end, Harvard, a young team with only two seniors and three sophomore starters, was overwhelmed physically and outplayed strategically. Early foul trouble for senior co-captain Christiana Lackner removed a cornerstone from the team foundation and with it a strong defensive and offensive presence.
“I was trying to get her out with two fouls, but I let her stay in, which is something I never do,” coach Kathy Delaney-Smith said. “When she got her third, it was impossible. She is a emotional leader for this team even though all that she does doesn’t show up in the stats. Because we’re so young, anyone can get in foul trouble, but not [Lackner]. It had a little bit of an effect.”
Lackner posted five points in the game’s first six minutes. With the low post presense and outside shot threat gone, the Terrapins quickly attacked the soft spot in the Crimson defense. Exerting dominance down low, Maryland posted 38 points in the paint, compared to just 18 for Harvard.
“I thought they did a good job defensively,” Delaney-Smith said. “We like to go inside much more and I thought that hurt us that we were unable to go inside and score in the low post and we couldn’t even get the ball there.”
Similarly, rebounding, a strength for the Crimson all season, was difficult against the Terps, who entered the game with the best rebounding margin in the country. Maryland grabbed 42 rebounds on the afternoon, compared to 32 by Harvard, but 16 offensive rebounds led to 18 second-chance points for the Terrapins.
The final outcome belies the competitiveness of the matchup.
“Harvard made a lot of great plays,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. “You have to give them credit. I thought they were extremely aggressive and they hustled. The first four minutes of the game were due to how hard they wanted to play in this ballgame.”
In the first few minutes of the game, Harvard matched the Terrapins shot for shot and even jumped out to a four-point advantage two minutes into the game on a three-pointer by Lackner, but that would be the last time the Crimson led. Down early, Maryland cranked up the pressure and started to look more like the reigning national champs.
Strong inside play from Crystal Langhorne and dead-eye shooting from Shay Doron ignited the offense. Langhorne finished the day with nine rebounds and 12 points on 6-of-11 shooting. Doron was perfect from beyond the arc, going 3-of-3 from downtown, and 9-of-14 from the field to finish with a game-high 21 points.
Harvard trailed 38-25 at halftime, but after an Emily Tay jumper, the Terrapins went on a 13-0 run to push their lead to 24. And though its deficit climbed to as much as 26, the Crimson refused to accept defeat, periodically sparking small runs throughout the second half.
“All coaches in the tournament say, ‘Don’t look at the scoreboard, don’t give up,” Delaney-Smith said. “I am proud of our effort. There were times when Maryland was hitting everything. That’s when it’s hard to have the energy, attitude and fight. I was proud of how we made little runs at them.”
Junior Jessica Knox came off the bench to spark some of these surges with deadly shooting from downtown. Knox landed all three of her attempts from beyond the arc en route to a career high 12 points. Sophomore Emily Tay led Harvard with 16 points, 14 of which came in the second half.
After beginning the season 1-10, the Crimson rallied to run off a 13-1 record in Ivy League play and earn an NCAA berth for the first time since 2003. Although Harvard was unable to replicate its miracle upset over Stanford as a No. 16 seed in 1998 yesterday, the big-game experience gained by squad’s young core could play dividends in the near future.
“I think my team is really young,” Delaney-Smith said, “and they got a lot of confidence from this game even though we lost by 20-plus points.”
—Staff writer Vincent R. Oletu can be reached at email@example.com.