Luckily for the Harvard men’s basketball team, fate has decided to look kindly upon it after years of pedestrian play against the Killer P’s. Coming off the heels of a remarkable comeback against Princeton, the Crimson (8-18, 3-7 Ivy) capped the weekend by handing Penn (10-16, 5-4 Ivy) a 89-79 defeat, marking the first time since 1987 that the Crimson has successfully swept the two Ivy teams at Lavietes.
“We’re very pleased with a very good weekend for our program,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “I know its been a long while since Harvard basketball has been able to win this weekend, and it was nice to have these kids be on the winning side of it.”
Those kids, particularly the front-court duo of Brad Unger and Evan Harris and the mid-range assassin Jeremy Lin, combined for 62 of the Crimson’s points. The team as a whole shot 53 percent from the floor and 54 percent from beyond the three-point arc.
The key to victory was the way Harvard started and ended both halves. Within the first five minutes of the game, the Crimson jumped out to a seven-point lead and closed the first on an 11-0 run to capture a 17-point lead at the break.
Similarly, in the second, Harvard held its biggest lead, 49-28, at the 18:39 mark and calmly put the Quakers away by making its last eight free throws.
“We had been talking about becoming the aggressor, getting to the foul line, that’s been a point of emphasis,” Amaker said. “It’s been a good barometer for our kids to gauge their aggressiveness, [seeing] how many foul shots have we taken.”
Harvard’s consistent shooting never let the lead drop to less than eight points in the second half. The high-point of the night came at the 16:12 mark, as Unger drained another three to put his team up 19. After a Penn layup, Lin came right back with another trey.
Penn tried to claw back, but like clockwork, Lin matched each short-term burst of offense for Penn with another mid-range dagger.
On a night where jumpers came easy and threes came cheap, Lin and Unger each had 21 points to lead all scorers. Unger shot 50 percent from the floor, including threes, and both players augmented their scoring hauls with six rebounds.
Despite a poor shooting night, junior guard Drew Housman efficiently ran the floor, racking up eight assists on only two turnovers. More surprisingly, the 6’0” point guard amassed a game-high 11 rebounds.
Success for the Crimson could partially be attributed to the lack of playing time Penn’s Tyler Bernardini was able to get. Entering the game as the team’s leading scorer, early foul trouble relegated him to a lonely spot on the bench as he only played six minutes in the first and 19 total.
After sitting out the last 13 minutes of the first half, Bernardini comically found his way back to the bench in the first minute of the second, picking up his third personal by fouling Harris.
It was apparent just how crucial Bernardini is to the Penn offense in the first half. Without their star player, the Quakers shot 32 percent in the first and 39 percent for the game. Penn’s Grandieri picked up the slack with 19 points and seven boards to lead his team in both categories.
Although Penn was missing its key guard, its frontcourt had no excuse for the way Harris and Unger manhandled it in the paint. Harris in particular, was perfect from the floor through the entire first and six minutes into the second. He had 20 points, 10 boards, and three blocks on the night.
“The big guys have battled extremely hard, they pretty much filled the void we had down low,” Lin said. “I don’t know what’s gotten into them, but they’ve been unstoppable all weekend.”
The team oozed confidence on the night, a rare sight after its miserable seven-game losing streak.
With Penn once again going on a 7-2 run late in the second to cut the lead down to 13, Jeremy Lin calmly dropped a leaning jumper to narrowly beat the shot clock at the 5:33 mark. Sophomore Dan McGeary followed on the next possession with a crowd-raising three pointer to push the lead back to 16.
Harvard wasn’t troubled much throughout the night, especially considering its prowess from the free throw line. As Penn resorted to fouling in the last three minutes of the game, the Crimson stepped up and knocked down 25-of-27 from the charity stripe.
The back-to-back weekend wins should give Harvard some much-needed confidence heading into next weekend’s road trip against Cornell and Columbia.
After losing a heartbreaker in the last 30 seconds against the league leading Big Red, the Crimson will be motivated to exact revenge. With shooting, Harvard has become a far more formidable opponent than that crimson-clad team that trotted out through much of the winter.
—Staff writer Mauricio A. Cruz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.