Poor shooting and domination on the interior spelled the end for the Crimson’s short-lived two-game winning streak as the Lions roared back from a 17-4 deficit early in the first half to win, 61-54.
“The differential [in the game] was the ability to convert on the interior,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “We had no answers for [senior forward John] Baumann and with the strength they had and the way they were attacking the glass, we needed to make some shots to offset that and we didn’t.”
Down 13 early, the Lions went on a 20-6 run to recapture the lead with 1:02 remaining in the first half. Columbia’s big men—Baumann and senior forward Ben Nwachukwu—scored all 20 points during the run as each registered 10 points over the Crimson’s overmatched frontcourt. Despite jumping out to the big lead, the Crimson ended the half down two, 25-23, and never regained its composure in the second.
“We had that great start, and then we look up and we’re like, what happened?” junior forward Evan Harris said. “We had a lot of point blank opportunities that we just missed.”
The first minute of the second proved to be a harbinger of things to come for Harvard. After making a layup to tie the game at the onset of the second, sophomore Jeremy Lin missed a layup, which was followed by two wide open threes that missed the mark.
The three-point arc haunted both teams throughout the second half. Harvard shot a combined 1-for-12 in the second, but Columbia proved to be a worthy adversary for long-range mediocrity, going 0-for-12 on the night.
The lack of good shooting meant that the game would be decided on the inside, which boded well for the Lions. Columbia out-rebounded the Crimson, 36-31, and scored 10 more points in the paint. Second chance points also favored the New York men, as the Lions held a distinct 10-2 advantage.
After tying the game in the first minute of the second half, Harvard never came close again as Columbia pulled away from the Crimson. The poor shooting and plethora of wide open misses led to long rebounds that the Lions converted into fast break opportunities.
“Sometimes when things don’t go our way on offense, people put their [heads down] and we give up easy baskets on the other end,” junior guard Drew Housman said.
Harvard gave up five-straight possessions where Columbia simply out-hustled it in transition. After bringing the lead down to three with nine minutes remaining, the quick transition plays killed off any chance for a Crimson comeback.
Harvard, also dealing with foul trouble and the two-headed monster of Baumann and Nwachukwu, dug a little deeper into its bench as junior transfer Cem Dinc played an increased role, seeing 17 minutes of play to spell Evan Harris and Dan McGeary, who sat with four fouls each.
“Cem is a guy that can give us [interior help] but he’s also a guy who has practiced really well and we wanted to reward that,” Amaker said. “He’s earned [playing time] in practice and we’ve been pleased with his efforts.”
Despite the increased presence in the post, Harvard still couldn’t stop Baumann and Nwachukwu from scoring in double digits, as the pair scored 20 and 18 points, respectively.
On the offensive side of the ball, captain Brad Unger led the Crimson with 13 points. Harris added 10 of his own along with nine rebounds. Housman and Lin—who combined for 7-for-18 shooting—could only muster 11 and 10 individually.
With hopes of finishing the season at .500 now over, Amaker may give more minutes to his younger players in preparation for next season. Harvard went nine deep against Columbia after displaying a short rotation in the past couple of weeks.
—Staff writer Mauricio A. Cruz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.