“We were basically running a high pick and roll,” Housman said. “Coach [Tommy Amaker] put the ball in my hands and allowed me the freedom to try and make a play. I turned the corner and Jeremy was wide open.”
Despite struggling with a severe ankle injury the entire game, Lin was still out there, and when the ball came to him, he rose up and let it fly.
The drama riding on this one shot was palpable. Harvard had not won at the Palestra since the 1990-’91 season, the team was in danger of sliding closer to the bottom of the Ivy League standings with a loss, and Lin was taking the shot off one good leg.
But the shot ripped through the net, propelling the Crimson to a huge 66-60 win over Penn Saturday night.
Behind Housman’s staggering performance and Lin’s clutch shot, the Crimson not only broke its long losing streak at the Palestra, but in addition, the team was finally able to finish off a close Ivy game with a win.
“Maybe it is not that big in the whole scheme of things this season but it is good for the program as a whole,” Housman said. “We have not [won at the Palestra] in so long.”
While Lin’s shot was the clincher, the plays leading up to it were all the more telling for a Harvard squad, which has struggled in late-game situations this year.
After senior forward Evan Harris fouled out with just over 11 minutes to play, the team was forced to play under-manned from there on out. With the only other viable big man for the Crimson, freshman Keith Wright, sitting on the bench with four fouls of his own, Harvard turned to oft-used reserve freshman Peter Swiatek for minutes.
The Crimson struggled on the defensive end, as Swiatek could not control the Penn big men down low. This opened up the three-point line for Penn, and senior Kevin Egee delivered, knocking down three threes in the course of three minutes to bring Penn to within two at 46-44 with 7:50 to play.
“Evan with four fouls, Keith with four fouls and then Evan fouling out, we’re just trying to massage it as much as we could and hold on,” Amaker said.
But the Crimson battled back—by playing ugly. The team made its free throws, Penn did not, and the team stayed intense and tough. This was none the more obvious than in Lin’s performance, as the junior standout battled to an amazing 12 points despite a serious ankle injury, which forced him to hobble at every dead ball.
And on top of that, the Crimson was holding an ace in the hole—Housman. The guard lit up the Penn defense for 22 huge points on top of five assists, going 8-12 from the floor.
“Everything becomes much more critical because you don’t have the one or two guys that can make the plays [for Penn] consistently in tough situations,” Quakers coach Glen Miller said. “Housman is a senior and had 22 points, he controlled a lot of what Harvard did. I thought he was a real key to the game.”
But the point that mattered the most was his last.
Housman went to the line, with the Crimson down one, 55-56. In the strangest of series, Housman made the first, but his second went straight off the back of the rim, floated high, and landed right in the hands of senior Andrew Pusar.
After another miss and another offensive board, the ball was kicked out to Housman, who held the ball, staring at the clock.
He waited until there were just under 20 seconds left on the shot clock, then faked right, spun left, and cut to the corner.
The Quakers expected a drive, but Housman stopped and pulled back for a jumper that rattled around and fell in the net, as he careened to the floor.
With Lin injured, Housman knew he had to step up, and with shots like that, he did.
“I heard earlier in the day [Lin] was not going to play,” Housman said. “I knew at that point I was going to have to step up, especially offensively because we would be lacking so much.”
Lin tallied zero points in the first half, but even so, the Crimson held a 29-26 lead at the break, thanks to 11 points from Wright. It all changed in the second, however, as the Crimson lost Wright for much of the frame due to foul trouble. In the process, it lost its low-post dominance as well.
It cam down to Housman and one clutch shot from the Crimson’s most clutch player, Lin, to put the team over the top.
“Especially us seniors, we’re going to put everything out there,” Housman said, following the team’s 58-55 loss to Princeton the night before.
In carrying his team to victory, Housman did just that.
—Staff writer Walter E. Howell can be reached at email@example.com.