With the No. 23 Harvard men’s basketball team clinging to a two-point lead with 2:39 to play, the Crimson relied on its biggest strength yet again: its defense.
With Columbia close to evening the score after trailing throughout the second half, Harvard came up with back-to-back stops down the stretch, helping the Crimson secure a 57-52 win over the Lions Saturday night at Lavietes Pavilion.
Defense was key for Harvard all night, as it held the Lions to 52 points—12 points below their season average and their second lowest offensive output of the season—on 37.5 percent shooting.
Columbia guard Brian Barbour, who entered the game averaging 20.8 points per game in Ivy League play, was limited to 15 points on 4-of-13 shooting.
“Holding a team to 52 points—I would take that every day of the week and twice on Sunday,” said Harvard coach Tommy Amaker, whose team never trailed throughout the night. “I thought our defense was probably as good as we could expect against a team like that that spreads the floor and tries to dribble-drive against us.”
With the win, Harvard (20-2, 6-0 Ivy) improved its home winning streak to 24 games—the fourth-longest in the country—and is currently off to its best start in program history.
“We’re very pleased to get this win over a team that battled very hard and was very hard for us guard,” Amaker said. “Second night, it wasn’t easy for us; none of these games are going to be.”
The Crimson, a team known for its offensive balance, received very little on Saturday, as three players—co-captain Keith Wright, junior Brandyn Curry, and sophomore Laurent Rivard—combined for 82 percent of the team’s scoring. Rivard led the way, matching a season-high 20 points on 11 shots.
“He has ways that he can score the basketball,” Amaker said. “Certainly his shot sets a lot up for him. We need that.”
Wright and Curry added 15 and 12 points, respectively.
Barbour had 15 points on the night, making him the lone Lions (13-9, 2-4) player to score in double figures.
Harvard’s bench combined for just one point—a free throw from rookie Steve Moundou-Missi—in 37 minutes of play.
“It wasn’t what it has been,” Amaker said of his second unit’s production. “But we talked about that before—there are probably going to be moments where we’re not going to get as much as we like out of some of our guys, being young players. We rode with the veterans as this game went on, and I thought that was the right call and the right decision for us.”
All five Harvard starters saw the court for at least 30 minutes, led by Curry who played 36 minutes.
After leading by three at the half, the Crimson extended its lead to seven with 14:04 to play after junior Kyle Casey, who had five points in the contest, stuck a baseline jumper. But Harvard was never able to gain separation, partially because of its struggles from the free-throw line, where it went 21 of 32 (65.6 percent), its third worst mark of the season. Columbia pulled within three off back-to-back layups from Mark Cisco and Blaise Staab before Harvard extended its lead to eight—its largest of the game—with 6:51 to go.