A second-half deficit of 15 points proved too much to overcome as the Harvard women’s basketball team fell to the University of Pennsylvania, 77-72, at the Palestra on Friday night. The Crimson had not lost to the Quakers on the road since 2001 and had held a 17-game win streak against its Ivy foes prior to Friday’s loss.
Harvard (13-7, 4-2 Ivy) was led by sophomore forward Temi Fagbenle, who eclipsed a personal best of 20 points set two weeks ago against Yale with a team-high 26 points for the night. Rookie Keiera Ray lit up the backcourt for Penn (10-9, 3-2) with 31 points.
“This was the game of [Ray’s] life,” Crimson coach Kathy Delaney-Smith said. “The kid drove. We just didn’t play her right. You’ve got to stop the drive and not send her to the line. It was bizarre. We played in favor of her—not to take away from her night—she played a great ball game. I’ll be interested to look at the tapes to see what we can do to not let that happen again.”
The freshman guard is the second-leading scorer for the Quakers, netting an average of 10.4 points per game.
“We expected someone else to be the go-to person for them,” Fagbenle said. “Obviously for a team like that, they can change positions and leadership. I guess that girl stepped up and we just didn’t do what we needed to do to stop her, which is terrible. We can’t let anyone go off like that against us.”
It was a banner night for Fagbenle, who dominated on the glass, pulling down a game-high 13 boards and recording her fourth career double-double. This was the fourth consecutive contest in which she has netted double-digit points.
“I didn’t even know I had those stats until someone told me,” Fagbenle said. “For me it doesn’t matter at all, especially if we lose.”
Fagbenle was joined by senior forward Victoria Lippert, who had 13 points for the night, as the only two players to put up double digit figures in any measure for the visiting squad.
Harvard fought from behind in both frames, but was unable to close the gap for a win. With just under 10 minutes to go in the game, Penn guard Alyssa Baron drove into the paint for a fastbreak lay-up that put her team on top by 15 points. All was not over for the Crimson, which went on a 14-0 run over the next five minutes to cut the Quaker lead to one. Fagbenle provided eight points during the scoring spree.
“I just think we came together,” Fagbenle said. “We didn’t stop persevering. We played our offense and stopped them from scoring. When you have those two, we get more points. That’s kind of like feel good basketball, [having] a little fun.”
The two teams quickly traded threes, with Lippert drilling a trey seconds after Penn’s Kathleen Roche sunk one from behind the arc. In the end, Harvard gave up six points from the charity stripe in the final 40 seconds, letting the Quakers pull off a win.
“We staged a nice comeback in the second half to erase the 15-point lead but we just fell short at the end,” Delaney-Smith said.
The Crimson fell behind early in the game, trailing by as many as eight points during the first period.
Down 17-12 with 10:44 left in the opening half, free throws from Fagbenle and junior guard Christine Clark, sandwiching a three from senior guard Elle Hagedorn, brought the score to 19-19. Fagbenle followed with a lay-up to give her team its first lead. But Harvard was unable to stay ahead, letting Penn sink three from deep to hold an edge, 30-22. The Crimson rallied for nine more points in the next three and a half minutes and went into the locker room down by three, 34-31.
While Harvard out-rebounded the Quakers, 43-34, the team struggled to keep its hands on the ball, turning it over 17 times and yielding 26 points off these errors.
“We shouldn’t have 17 turnovers at this point in the season,” Delaney-Smith said. “That’s something that we have to figure out how to control better. Seventeen isn’t awful but I really feel we’re a good enough team to have under 15. They’re a very physical team. We were supposed to be ready for that but I think the physicality bothered us a little bit in the first half.”
—Staff writer Cordelia F. Mendez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @CrimsonCordelia.