The Crimson undoubtedly impressed its first-year coach in the opening frame, outmuscling a bigger, more athletic Lions squad on the glass and burying five threes to take a 34-29 lead into the break.
But basketball games have two halves.
And Harvard—for the second straight night—fell victim to a second-half collapse that sent the Crimson reeling to its sixth consecutive loss, a 73-64 decision against visiting Columbia.
“That’s been our difficulty all year. Closing, finishing, sustaining,” Amaker said. “We’ve played some really good minutes or stretches, and then we’ve hit that wall and haven’t been able to fight through it…and they made their run and kind of took the life out of us.”
The tale of two halves is a telling one.
In the first 20 minutes, Harvard outrebounded Columbia, 16-12, including a 5-2 advantage on the offensive glass. The Crimson kept pace with the Lions’ formidable combination of John Baumann and Ben Nwachukwu in the post, with each squad scoring 16 points in the paint in the opening frame.
After the break, Columbia outrebounded Harvard 24-16 and dominated the lane, scoring 24 points in the paint to Harvard’s 10. The Lions did not turn the ball over once in the second half.
“It came over 16 minutes,” said junior forward Evan Harris of the Lions’ comeback. “It hurts especially because we can play with these guys. It just hurts seeing these guys we know we can play with outmuscle us and out-tough us.”
Two first-half fouls and Harvard’s solid interior defense kept Baumann contained during the opening frame, but Columbia’s First Team All-Ivy forward found his way to the rim in the second half—and got there a lot.
Baumann scored 15 of his team-high 20 points and snagged nine of his game-high 12 boards after the intermission.
Baumann is the league leader in offensive rebounds per game (2.4), and he pulled down four offensive boards—all of them in the second half—against Harvard.
“He’s an animal,” Harris said. “There were times, I hate to say this, when I’d be playing and I’d look up and he’d be at the ball already before I had even turned to try to look for him and try to box him out.”
With Columbia up just 53-51 with 6:47 to play, Baumann sprinted to the offensive glass to collect the rebound from his own missed shot after Harris went up for the rebound and the ball squirted out of his hands.
Baumann was there to collect the leftovers, snatching the ball from Harris and going back up for a layup before getting fouled by Crimson forward Doug Miller. Baumann finished the three-point play to give Columbia a comfortable 56-51 cushion.
He scored seven points during a 14-4 Columbia run over four minutes in the second half that erased a nine-point Crimson lead. After pulling down a rebound on the defensive glass, Baumann ran the length of the floor and buried a three from the top of the key to give Columbia a 47-46 lead with 11:41 to go—its first in over 13 minutes.
“The Baumann kid is just—he’s tough,” Amaker said. “I felt like he was one of the major differences tonight because of how tough he is around the goal, and he’s relentlees after the ball on the backboard. We had a couple defensive rebounds I thought we had and he reached around our hands.”
Both squads reached 10 team fouls with over four minutes remaining in the game, but Harvard’s untimely fouls late in the game forced Amaker to shuffle his lineup at the wrong time.
Harris picked up his fourth foul on a chase for a rebound with 7:58 remaining the second half. Miller was charged with three fouls in just over a minute and a half, the fifth coming with 5:06 to play. Amaker had to sit Harris until Miller fouled out, and after guard Jeremy Lin picked up his fourth with 5:23 left, both Lin and Harris—two starters averaging double figures—found themselves on the bench in the waning minutes.
“That didn’t help us, with our guys being in foul trouble,” Amaker said. “They had some fouls as well, but in the second half I thought it really hurt us with [forward Brad] Unger and Harris in particular. I think when they got into foul trouble they played a bit too cautiously out there, and I think that allowed the ball to get into the post more easily.”
After Harris committed his fourth foul, Baumann and Nwachukwu exploded for Columbia’s next 15 points and pushed the margin to 65-56.
AROUND THE RIM
Both Baumann and Unger play basketball and baseball for their respective universities, and both are pitchers. The two went head-to-head in an April 1, 2007 game in which Baumann’s complete game gave Columbia a 5-1 win…junior guard Drew Housman poured in 25 gritty points against the Lions, many of them coming on tough drives to the lane and pretty finishes over Columbia’s forwards…Columbia’s wins over Dartmouth and Harvard on Friday and Saturday gave the Lions their first back-to-back weekend sweeps in a decade.
—Staff writer Aidan E. Tait can be reached at email@example.com.