With just under two minutes to play, junior guard Brandyn Curry drove down the lane and navigated through a maze of Saint Joseph’s defenders, scoring a lefty layup to give the No. 23/24 Harvard men’s basketball team its first lead since early in the first half.
On the Crimson’s next possession, junior forward Kyle Casey drained a three-pointer to stretch the lead to four, and the Crimson (12-1) held on to earn the comeback victory, dropping the Hawks (10-4), 74-69.
For both teams, it was a tale of two halves. As it had done two days earlier at Boston College, Harvard’s defense had no answer for St. Joe’s at the start of the game and quickly fell behind by double digits.
But the Hawks continued to attack throughout the half. Led by the sharpshooting backcourt of sophomore Langston Galloway and junior Carl Jones, the Hawks shot a shade under 80 percent from the field en route to a 48-point first half, the Crimson’s worst defensive frame all season.
Saint Joseph’s, which missed only five shots from the field in the half, scored more points than four of Harvard’s previous opponents did in entire games, and the Crimson went into the locker room down 10.
But the Hawks offense cooled down considerably in the second half, and Harvard’s Casey caught fire. St. Joe’s made only eight field goals in the second half and shot under 30 percent as the Hawks watched their lead slowly dwindle.
Casey scored 20 of his season-high 26 points in the half, including a dominant stretch in the final few minutes when he scored five quick points on a 9-0 Crimson run that helped seal the come-from-behind win.
“He’s an incredibly talented player,” said co-captain Keith Wright, who paced the Crimson offense early on and finished the game with 16 points. “[Casey] just has to believe that he can play like this day in and day out.”
Surrendering 48 points in the first half was uncharacteristic from a team whose success has largely been built on its defense. But the Crimson was all but helpless for the first 20 minutes of the game.
Jones, who finished the game with a team-high 22 points for the Hawks, made six of eight shots from the field to lead his team in the first half.
Galloway scored 15 first-half points and was a perfect 5-for-5 from the field, including three from behind the arc. Sophomore C.J. Aikan, who anchors the Hawks’ defense with an average of four blocks per game, showed impressive touch from outside while scoring seven first-half points.
“Give them credit,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “I thought if we could just hang in there, they wouldn’t be able to continue shooting 80 percent.”
Despite Saint Joseph’s success on the floor, the Crimson managed to stick around in the first half thanks in part to a strong performance from Wright, who scored 10 points in the frame despite coverage from Aikan.
“We always try to establish an inside presence,” said Amaker. “Keith was huge. He’s been our force.”
But despite Wright’s efforts, Harvard trailed by as much as 13 before co-captain Oliver McNally nailed a three-pointer as time expired in the first half to send the Crimson in to the locker room down 10.