Senior forward Evan Harris led an aggressive defensive effort from the Crimson frontcourt with two emphatic first-half blocks.
Everything was going according to plan.
In a tough if not ugly matchup against Brown, the Harvard men’s basketball team was up six, 59-53, with just under two minutes to play.
A missed rebound and resultant three made it 59-56, but with senior stalwart Drew Housman—a career 81 percent free-throw shooter—going to the line for a one-and-one with 1:08 to play, the Crimson seemed to have little reason to worry. But after a missed first shot and a Bears layup on the other end, it was 59-58 with 47 seconds to play.
But Harvard still had a shot to put the game out of reach, when Housman drove to the hoop and pulled up for an eight-footer. It clanked off the rim, and Brown took possession with 11 seconds left in the game.
What happened next seemed an inevitability. Bears sophomore Garrett Leffleman, who had gone 0-5 from three point range before the shot, launched a desperation three as time expired, which found the bottom of the net, sealing the Crimson’s fate in a heartbreaking 61-59 loss at Brown on Friday night.
“We can hang our heads and cry and moan,” coach Tommy Amaker said. “But if we can’t snatch a rebound or come up with a loose ball or make a front end of a one-and-one down the stretch, that’s the difference in a tight game like this...We left the door open for them to make a play like they did at the end.”
In the final 1:34 of play, the Bears blanked the Crimson, posting an 8-0 run to close out the win. Leffleman’s three-pointer capped the historic run, sparking the sparse crowd of Brown supporters to storm the court. As they did, the Crimson left the court questioning what could have been.
“It was hustle plays,” Harvard captain Andrew Pusar said. “They were able to keep a lot of balls alive, by getting their hands on rebounds, scrapping at the defensive end. We were up seven at the half, but they put us in a hole and got their engines going.”
Freshman Oliver McNally, who paced the Crimson late in scoring seven points over the final five minutes of play, threw his jersey over his face, trying to block out the scene that was unfolding in front of him.
Housman walked off stunned, as he had just seen a lead that he helped manufacture disappear. After falling behind by four late in the second half, Housman led the Crimson’s comeback effort and capped it with a huge three to give the Crimson a 51-50 lead with just under six minutes to play. From that point on, McNally did the rest, giving the Crimson a seemingly insurmountable lead with two minutes to play.
“I thought Oliver played tremendously down the stretch,” Amaker said. “He stepped up and made big baskets for us.”
Throughout the season, the Crimson has followed the lead of one man—junior Ivy League Player of the Year candidate Jeremy Lin. He walked off the court having notched ten points—but on 3-of-11 shooting. For many players this would have been a solid performance, for Lin, it fell below expectations.
Harvard seemed poised for victory after dominating the first half to take a 35-28 lead at halftime. But the Crimson missed Lin in the beginning of the second frame, as he went cold and Harvard followed suit.
After the first nine minutes of the second half, the game had been flipped on its head. Brown was now up seven, 46-39, as the Bears blitzed the Crimson to the tune of a 17-4 run to start play in the second frame.
Harvard only shot 33 percent from the field in the second.
The leader for Brown in its comeback bid was junior center Matt Mullery. It is not often that a player in the Ivy League tallies 20 points in a game. To do it while grabbing 20 boards is unheard of, but Mullery did just that, scorching the undersized Crimson frontcourt for 21 points and 20 rebounds. On the season, he has scored 47 total points in two games against Harvard.
“I played a lot of minutes, that certainly had something to do with it,” Mullery said. “I was just going after the ball on every possession, keeping the motor going.”
Still, in the end, it seemed like Harvard would pull out the victory, in part because Brown only shot 22 percent from three-point range in the game. Ironically, Leffleman—the hero of the game—would have been the match’s goat had it not been for that last shot. He missed wide-open three after wide-open three, going 0-for-5 from behind the arc in the game. But none of that mattered as time expired, when his desperation shot miraculously dropped through the net.
—Staff writer Walter E. Howell can be reached at email@example.com.