Fresh off its first victory at Penn in 18 years, the Harvard men’s basketball team broke another streak, albeit a smaller one. The Crimson beat Columbia for the first time in six games, 72-63, Friday night at Lavietes Pavilion behind a balanced team attack, avenging a last second loss to the visitors two weeks ago.
Junior guard Jeremy Lin and freshman forward Keith Wright tied for a game-high 14 points to lead four players in double figures for the Crimson as it pulled away midway through the second half, then held off the Lions’ attempt at a late charge.
Senior guard Drew Housman and freshman guard Oliver McNally each had 10 points as Harvard shot 12-of-20 from the floor after the break following a rough 12-of-32 performance in the first half. On the other end, an excellent Crimson defense held the visitors to just 38.7 percent field-goal shooting after the break.
“In the second half, we were able to stretch things out and I thought our defense was tremendous. I thought that was the key for us. I was really pleased for us to get another win under our belt coming off a good win at Penn,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said.
After the lead went back-and-forth early on in the second half, a jumper from the foul line by Wright gave his team a 37-35 lead just over four minutes after the break. The Crimson would not relinquish this lead, as it kick-started a 21-6 run over the next eight minutes. Harvard’s stifling defense forced five turnovers in that stretch as the home team pulled away.
Captain guard Andrew Pusar’s three with just under eight minutes left made it 56-41. But Columbia was not done and looked to rally as it had in the first meeting. Tough defense and some fine shooting in a two-minute span closed the gap to just six at 58-52 with 4:21 left. Then the Crimson ran the shot clock down on its next possession and McNally found himself with the ball and well-covered just inside the arch. But the defensive pressure failed to stop him from throwing up a high-arching shot that fell through as the shot clock buzzer sounded with 3:40 left.
“That was a big-time shot, it drained their momentum,” Lin said. “Oliver is a gutsy player and he loves taking big shots.”
That would be the last field goal of the game for the home team, but Harvard would take care of business from the free throw line. The Crimson lead would not shrink lower than eight points until it was 70-63 with 25 ticks left. McNally, Lin, and Housman combined to go 12-of-14 from the line following the freshman’s clutch jumper.
“They fouled us a lot late, but we did a very good job throughout the ballgame of making our free throws,” Amaker said.
Indeed, Harvard shot 20-of-25 from the line on the game, showing no signs of the foul shooting trouble that plagued it in home losses to Dartmouth and Penn earlier in the year.
Columbia did fine from the charity stripe as well, hitting 17-of-24 from the game, above its season average of 66.4 percent. Its 8-of-11 shooting in the first half helped keep the team in the game, as it trailed just 29-27 despite making only eight field goals. Guard Noruwa Agho had 13 points to lead the Lions and backcourt mate Niko Scott added 12 before leaving with a foot injury in the second half.
But overall it was a tough night on offense for the visitors as the home squad pressured them throughout the entire game. Of Columbia’s 15 turnovers, 11 were steals by Harvard—six courtesy of Housman—while inside, the Crimson blocked six shots, with four by Wright and two by senior forward Evan Harris. Overall, the Lions went just 20-of-49 from the floor, finding little space against the tenacious Harvard defense.
“It was a great team effort and everyone came ready to play,” Lin said.
—Staff writer Ted Kirby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.