The charity stripe wasn’t so kind to the Harvard men’s basketball team last night at West Point. Taking advantage of its trips to the line, Army rode foul shots by a pair of guards—sophomore Julian Simmons and senior Josh Miller—to a 56-53 defeat of the Crimson.
Due to a team policy that prohibits players from talking on their cell phones on the bus, The Crimson was unable to speak to sources on the team before going to press.
“We definitely had our chances, but didn’t take care of the ball and didn’t convert at the foul line,” sophomore guard Oliver McNally wrote in a text message.
Sophomore Andrew Van Nest’s three-point attempt at the end of the game failed, depriving Harvard of the opportunity for overtime heroics reminiscent of the matchup against William and Mary earlier this season.
“You got to give credit to Army for playing well and really out-toughing us on their home court,” McNally continued in the text message.
The end result overshadowed a strong comeback. Down 21-7 with 8:16 left in the first half, the Crimson went on a 12-2 run to reduce the deficit to four points, as Army led 25-21 at the half. Harvard continued to rally into the second half. After co-captain Doug Miller’s traditional three-point play put the team up 30-29, McNally kept the momentum going as the Crimson extended its margin of lead up to six points.
“We kind of let down a little bit after we got a cushion,” Simmons said in a post-game press conference, according to Army’s official website. “We just had to refocus.”
Refocus the Black Knights did, never letting the lead go above six. Simmons scored eight points in three minutes to lead an Army surge. The last of these three baskets—a lay-up—evened the score at 46-46 with 4:13 remaining in the second.
“We just stayed strong as a team,” Simmons said.
From there on, the teams—which had traded momentum throughout the contest—would play evenly. The score would be tied twice more, and the lead would exchange hands.
“It felt like we were stuck on a couple of numbers for a long time,” Army Coach Zack Spiker said in the press conference.
The winner would be decided from the foul line.
The Crimson struck first as McNally gave it a 47-46 edge, but soon after, Army senior Cleveland Richards—the team’s leading scorer and a second team all-league pick a year ago—went two-for-two from the line to give his team a one point lead. The Black Knights would trade leads with Harvard for a while until a Simmons trip to the line would give Army the lead for good. After the sophomore went two-for-two, Army’s Miller gave the team insurance with a two-point trip to the line of his own. Harvard freshman Kyle Casey would score to bring the lead back down to two, but the Crimson would be unable to close the gap again. With seven seconds left, Crimson co-captain Jeremy Lin sent Simmons to the line once more.
By making one of his two free throws, the sophomore gave the Black Knights a three-point lead, forcing Harvard to try for overtime from the perimeter.
“I’m really proud of [Simmons],” Spiker said. “He had a tough night making decision on shot selection early, but he was able to come through, and he hit a couple of huge shots.”
With one second remaining, Van Nest had the ball—and the game—in his hands. But the sophomore’s shot went wide, and Richards grabbed the rebound to control the ball as the clock expired.
But the missed three-pointer might not have been so crucial had Harvard not dug itself into a 14-point hole early. The Crimson committed 11 turnovers in the first seven minutes of the game, the first two coming from Lin. The opportunistic Black Knights wasted little time, using a 17-2 run to gain an imposing lead. A win may have allowed Harvard to celebrate its rally, but the loss means that the team will have to reflect on its inability to play with composure early in the game.
“We have a lot to learn from tonight as a team, but we have a quick turn around,” Casey said in a text message. “We need to refocus ourselves and get ready for wins.”
The win brings both the Crimson and Army to 3-1 records. The Black Knights have not had a winning season since 1985, but they downed Princeton on Saturday, defeating it 56-52. The Crimson lost both times it played the Tigers last year.