The Harvard men’s basketball team had been there before.
Just as it did in the waning minutes of its Ivy League contest against Dartmouth, the Crimson found itself down by double digits to an underdog opponent—this time Columbia—as the clock wound down in the second half. And just like in each of its four most recent league contests, Harvard was once again in need of late-game heroics.
But this time, down 20 with 2:58 to go, a storybook comeback wasn’t in the cards.
“We were certainly out of sync,” Amaker said. “We’ll take a look at the film and see where we went wrong. There were a lot of breakdowns in communication, and they took advantage of those.”
Led by sophomore Wesley Saunders and freshman point guard Siyani Chambers, who each scored four points in the final 3:09, Harvard tallied seven straight points to cut Columbia’s lead to 75-62 with just under two minutes to play.
But it was too little, too late, as the Crimson (13-7, 5-1 Ivy) eventually suffered its first league defeat of the 2012-13 campaign, 78-63, at the hands of the Lions (10-10, 2-4) Sunday afternoon at Levien Gymnasium.
“You’re never comfortable on the road,” Chambers had said before the game. “[It’s] a hostile environment, crowd going against you…. Your whole team needs to be together and play as a unit.”
With 2:58 left to play in the contest, Columbia’s Alex Rosenberg knocked down two free throws to secure a sizable, 75-55 advantage for his team at the end of a seven-point scoring streak.
From there, Saunders made a jumper off the glass at 2:35 and Chambers scored four points from the line to narrow the lead to 14.
With 1:40 left to play in the contest, co-captain Christian Webster stole the ball, was fouled on the steal, and made one of his two free throws to cut the deficit to 13.
But that was as close as the Crimson would get, as Harvard gave up three more free throws and scored just one more point—a shot from the stripe by freshman Agunwa Okolie—down the stretch.
After a back-and-fourth first half that resulted in a four-point Lions’ advantage, the Crimson scored five straight points after falling behind by 10 at the start of the second frame. But Harvard would not get back within five for the remainder of the game.
Columbia stretched its lead to 12 at 7:42 in the second after Rosenberg converted on a wide-open look from three, forcing Harvard to call a timeout and put on the full-court press.
But it was to little avail. Columbia point guard Brian Barbour—who was held scoreless in the first half despite averaging 13 points per game on the season—came alive midway through the second frame, adding some much needed cushion to his team’s lead. Barbour—who closed out the contest with eight points and as many assists—finished a layup and a triple and dished out two assists in the subsequent two minutes, leaving his team with a solid 18-point lead at the five-minute mark.
On the way to a career-high 27 points on 9-of-12 shooting, Lions’ guard Steve Frankoski put the icing on the 9-1 Columbia run with a mid-range jumper that put his team up, 68-50.