A streaking Columbia team, having won eight of its last nine games, came into Lavietes Pavilion Friday night looking to establish itself as a league contender. But the Lions will likely need to go back to the drawing board, as the Harvard men’s basketball team used a dominant second-half performance to secure a 77-66 win.
“It was a very competitive game. We knew we were going to get their best shot. We knew the game was going to be fast-paced, physical,” sophomore guard Brandyn Curry said. “This is the kind of game we expected.”
After a close first half, which ended in a 33-32 Crimson lead, Harvard began to make its run early in the second frame, when a steal by Curry started a fast break. Curry passed ahead to junior co-captain Oliver McNally, who then tipped the ball to sophomore forward Kyle Casey, and the big man capped the play with a two-handed slam.
“Oliver had a real nice touch pass, and I took off,” Casey said. “I was expecting it, so I just got bouncy.”
The very next possession, after the Crimson corralled the defensive rebound, Curry launched a long outlet pass to McNally, and the guard fed junior co-captain Keith Wright running to the hoop. Wright flushed home a dunk to give Harvard a 45-38 lead.
A minute later, the Crimson was on another break, and McNally dished to Wright under the basket, where the big man finished with his second jam. At that point, the Crimson led, 50-41, with 14:26 remaining. After Harvard’s next points—a pair of McNally free throws—Harvard’s lead never dipped below double digits for the rest of the contest.
“We knew the tempo would be really fast—that’s kind of the way we play. We like to get up and down,” Casey said.
Sophomore guard Christian Webster quelled any chance of a Columbia comeback. Returning to action after missing last Saturday’s game with a hip pointer, Webster hit three consecutive three-pointers in four Crimson possessions to stretch an 11-point lead to 18.
“He made some big shots,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “It was really nice to see the rhythm and confidence that he had.”
Webster’s 16 points were good for third-best on the team after McNally and Casey, who each tallied 17. Friday’s contest was Casey’s best game of the season. The reigning Ivy League Rookie of the Year, who is still recovering from a broken foot suffered in the offseason, went 7-of-13 from the field, scoring in a variety of ways—face-up jumpers, drives, step backs—and he grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds.
“He’s a scorer,” Curry said. “I don’t think there’s anybody in the league that can match up with him. There are so many mismatches because he’s so athletic. He can shoot over people; he can drive by the bigger guys. Our emphasis is definitely to get him the ball.”
The Lions had their own superlative performances from guards Brian Barbour and Noruwa Agho. Barbour extended his streak of consecutive games in double-digit scoring to seven with 19 points. Agho bounced back from a 1-for-12 shooting night in his last game against Cornell to score a season-high 27 points. The senior went 10-of-20 from the field, hit two threes, and finished three and-ones.
“[Agho’s] a monster offensive player. He’s hard to guard, moves well without the ball, shoots it off the catch, drives it, finishes—he’s so strong going to the goal,” Amaker said. “Very, very difficult player to defend.”
On the night, the Crimson held Columbia to 37.8 percent shooting from the field and 33.3 percent from deep.
The win, which was Harvard’s seventh straight on the season and 12th straight at home, gave the Crimson a one-game lead in the Ivy standings.
—Staff writer Timothy J. Walsh can be reached at email@example.com.