After cruising through the first half without ever giving up its lead, the Harvard women’s basketball team found itself battling for its second consecutive win in a contentious second period.
Tied at 49 with four minutes to play, a three pointer by senior forward Victoria Lippert sparked a 14-7 run to close out the game and hand Harvard (9-5) its last non-conference win over Rhode Island (5-10), 63-56.
“We were kind of taken aback that it became such a close game,” said co-captain and forward Emma Golen, who knocked down back-to-back treys in the opening minutes of the game. “At the end we finally dug in and realized the power was in our hands.”
The Crimson held a five-point lead coming into the second period, but the Rams came out firing, tying up the game in just over a minute. Over the next 15 minutes, Harvard fought to stay in the game, tying up the score three more times before taking the lead at the sixteen-minute mark.
“We just didn’t flow as well offensively,” Golen said of the second half. “There was no connection on the floor and our energy was lacking. We just weren’t playing team Harvard basketball, which was a little disappointing.”
Junior guard Christine Clark led the way down the stretch, adding seven of her game-high 21 points in the final four minutes. Clark shot 8-14 from the field, and tallied four points from the charity stripe. Back-to-back free throws by Lippert with four seconds on the clock iced the hard-won victory for the Crimson.
“I thought we were a better team, and we wanted to keep the game at a higher level,” Harvard coach Kathy Delaney-Smith said. “I thought we had just inexplicable defensive errors, and it wasn’t just one person. It was a snowball effect of not being on the same page as a team."
The Crimson opened the matchup in a dominant fashion, jumping out to a ten-point lead five minutes in and holding the Rams to just one score, a jump shot by leading scorer Brianna Thomas. The freshman guard tallied 15 points and was spelled by sophomore guard Megan Strauman, who added 10 points.
With Harvard up by eight points in the final minutes of the half, Rhode Island crawled within five, driving to the basket and making three consecutive layups without a Harvard score after the Crimson committed turnovers on the two punctuating possessions. Turnovers continue to plague the Crimson down the stretch, handing the Rams 17 points to Harvard’s nine.
Sophomore forward Temi Fagbenle—who added nine points for the Crimson—helped spell the defensive lapses with strong post play. Fagbenle led the team for the fifth straight game with 10 rebounds—including nine on defense—against a physical Rams squad.
“Unfortunately [Fagbenle] didn’t get the calls going her way,” Delaney-Smith said. “For a young kid that’s a frustrating situation, and that’s not going to be unusual for her. Regardless of how the calls go she just has to understand how valuable she is to this game.”
Senior Elle Hagedorn was crucial to the defensive effort off the bench, adding four rebounds and three steals. The guard—who averages 2.3 points per game in 17 minutes of play—led the team with a season-high four assists and matched her season-high eight points, shooting 2-2 and knocking down four free throws in 29 minutes of play.
“[Hagedorn is] a defensive stopper and a sparkplug off the bench,” Delaney-Smith said. “She can beat anybody off the drive, and she took it to the hole really well tonight. I think she defaults to some of our statistical leaders when there are times that we would like her to be a scorer as well."
Five of Hagedorn’s eight points came late in the second half. Down by four with eight minutes to play, she hit a layup to bring Harvard within two. After Clark hit two free throws, Hagedorn drove to the basket a second time, drawing the foul and completing the three-point play from the stripe to put the Crimson on top.
In its victory, Harvard outshot the Rams across the board, capitalizing on its three-point prowess to make up for its 68.2 free throw percentage, which dipped below its 75.5 season mark. The Crimson made more than half of its shots from the perimeter for the fifth time this season, and its 41.7 season record is good for third in the NCAA.
Harvard’s win moved the team to 9-5 on the season entering Ivy League play and marked the Rams’ fourth consecutive loss.
--Staff writer Hope Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org