ITHACA, N.Y.—The Harvard men’s basketball team used a succession of huge three-point plays down the stretch to come back from a 14-point deficit on Friday night, beating the perimeter-oriented Big Red at its own game, in its own gym, 85-79.
A 32-point explosion from captain Jim Goffredo helped ease a season’s worth of shooting frustration, and gave the Crimson its first league road win in six tries. The victory also secured a season sweep for Harvard over third-place Cornell (16-12, 9-5), the highlight of an otherwise rough league campaign.
Harvard’s opponents had made over 80 more three-pointers than the Crimson entering Friday night, and the Big Red ranked near the top of the league in both three-point makes and percentage. But with the game’s outcome in the balance, Cornell leading 71-68 with 4:14 to play, the visitors mounted a stunning insurgency, reeling off three-point plays on four of their next five possessions to pull ahead for good.
Sophomore point guard Drew Housman tied the game and silenced the crowd by nailing a three off a feed from freshman guard Jeremy Lin. After a rare long-distance miss from Big Red assassin Ryan Wittman, Goffredo followed with his seventh—and most crucial—three-pointer of the night, using an up-fake to get Wittman in the air, then stepping to the side to calmly drill the triple and put Harvard up by three.
Four straight free throws on the next two Cornell possessions gave the advantage back to the hosts, at 75-74 with 1:45 left. The Crimson answered by running an isolation play for the explosive Housman, who after a forgettable first half had been unstoppable during the second period.
Alone with his defender on the left wing, Housman realized that guard Geoff Reeves was overplaying him to the right. Driving left, Housman finished high off the glass and drew the foul from Reeves, and promptly converted at the stripe to give Harvard back a two-point lead.
“Normally teams put a big guy down low so I can’t drive,” Housman said. “But they had no big guy down low, so I just took the opportunity.”
Guard Louis Dale answered his Crimson counterpart, driving to the basket and following his own missed layup with a scoop shot to tie the game at 77 with just over a minute to play.
With Harvard in need of a big play, the entire arena expected the ball to go to either Goffredo, who had been unconscious all night, or Housman, who already had 15 second-half points under his belt. But instead, the offense found an unlikely crunch-time outlet. Junior forward Brad Unger received the ball wide open behind the arc and decided to spot up and shoot instead of swinging the ball to a heavily-guarded Goffredo. Unger, who is something of a secret weapon for the Crimson—he ranks third on the team in three-point makes and first in percentage—knocked down the three, prompting a fist pump from the big man.
“That’s his shot,” Harvard coach Frank Sullivan said. “You’d never know it, but that’s his shot. It looked like an eternity coming out of his hand, but we knew it was going to go in.”
On the ensuing possession, Unger managed to tip Wittman’s pass, leading to a steal. Cornell was forced to foul, and Unger—who had missed two crucial late-game free throws in the Crimson’s loss at Princeton on Feb. 9—knocked down two from the line to effectively cement the win.
Harvard trailed by as many as 14 points in the opening period, after a three-pointer from Reeves made it 43-29 with 2:42 left in the half. But facing the blowout, the Crimson awoke, going on a 17-2 run spanning the halves to take the lead. Goffredo scored eight points in the stretch on a jumper and a pair of threes, one of which was several feet beyond the line.
The captain, who scored 30 points in a game twice last season, became the first player in Harvard basketball history to achieve the feat three times.
For the Crimson, the victory served to avenge last year’s team, which lost at Newman Arena in the final minute, a crushing defeat that sent the team on to seven more losses in a row. Harvard led by four points with under two minutes to play in that game, but could not complete the job. This year, Housman and Goffredo made sure the Crimson put the Big Red to sleep.
“We all in the back of our minds were like, ‘Okay, not again, we’re not going to lose this close one once we’ve had the lead,’” Housman said. “The fact that we battled back from being down in the first half—we knew we had taken their best punch.”
—Staff writer Caleb W. Peiffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.