Guard Jim Goffredo scored a game-high 24 points, but playing without injured sophomore forward Evan Harris, sidelined with a stress fracture of his foot, Harvard (12-16, 5-9 Ivy) was unable to stop Columbia’s massive starting frontcourt from shredding its weakened post defense.
Junior Ben Nwachukwu contributed a team-high 18 points and a game-high nine rebounds, and junior John Baumann scored 15 and grabbed five boards to grant the Lions (16-12, 7-7) their third straight win to end the season. The pair combined to shoot a remarkably efficient 13-of-18 from the floor on a number of layups and short jumpers in the paint, as the Crimson, down to just three big men, could not prevent the duo from asserting its power around the hoop.
Nwachukwu established the evening’s theme from the tip-off, as he expertly sealed his defender on the block and netted an easy bucket to open the scoring. The second time down the floor the 6’9 forward again dismantled Harvard’s interior defense, getting to the line for two free throws, and Baumann then made it 6-0 by dumping in a running floater on the fast break. Together, the two forwards scored all of the team’s points as Columbia leaped out to a 13-4 lead.
“Ben really did a great job early setting the tempo,” Baumann said. “He was really drawing a lot of attention. That opened things up for us from the outside and also for us to penetrate a little more.”
As in the previous night’s game against Cornell, however, the Crimson would scratch away the early deficit with an extended run. A 12-0 spurt, capped by a three-pointer from Goffredo, gave Harvard an 18-15 advantage, raising the hope that the Crimson could pull off an improbable road sweep on the season’s last weekend.
But the Lions closed the first half by outscoring Harvard 20-5 and took a 37-26 lead into halftime. Whether due to the exhaustion of the second leg of a road trip to opposite ends of New York state, or the bad matchup presented by Columbia, which had beaten the Crimson by 20 in Cambridge, the feeling that Harvard would not come back from double digits down as it had the prior evening in Ithaca was pervasive.
Playing in his school-record 108th game and his last half of basketball for the Crimson, Goffredo was clearly looking for the ball in an effort to will the team to victory with a shooting hot streak. He shot 7-of-11 in the period, including a trio of three-pointers, to net 17 second-half points and keep the game close.
But Harvard was not able to get a stop when it most needed one—whenever the Crimson cut the lead down within striking range, the Lions would score on their next possession, establishing a sense of futility about the comeback bid. Fittingly, Harvard’s yearlong Achilles’ heel, its defense, failed it again in the final period, as Columbia shot 14-of-21 from the floor, including 4-of-6 from long range, to keep the Crimson at arm’s length.
With under half a minute to play, Sullivan subbed out Goffredo for the final time. The respectful crowd of 1,993 stood and cheered his career service, as the captain, in a moment of heightened emotion, hugged his coaches and every player on the bench before sitting down to watch the final seconds.
“They’re basketball fans here, and they knew who he was,” Harvard coach Frank Sullivan said. “It was a great tribute to an outstanding Harvard player.”
Despite a difficult season in which he hit only 36 percent of his attempts from the floor, Goffredo, a 1,000-point scorer, closed his career with two outstanding games, scoring 56 points on 18-of-33 shooting.
“It means a lot to me to put two solid games together, and hopefully remember that for the years to come,” Goffredo said. “But I’m sure, 10 years from now, I’m not going to be remembering these two games as much as the whole experience.”
—Staff writer Caleb W. Peiffer can be reached at email@example.com.