Men's Basketball Drops Key Contest at Penn, 75-72
Weekend sweep costs Harvard control of own destiny in Ivy race
PHILADELPHIA—The Harvard men’s basketball team left Cambridge on Thursday as a heavy favorite to three-peat as Ivy League champion, boasting a 1.5-game lead over Princeton in the conference standings.
The Crimson returns to Cambridge needing a prayer to extend its season.
Following Friday night’s loss at Princeton, Harvard couldn’t keep up with Penn, falling, 75-72, at the Palestra.
The Quakers’ relentless defensive pressure stalled Harvard’s offense in the opening frame, as the Crimson was held to 26.1 percent shooting and went into halftime trailing, 38-26.
Harvard found an offensive rhythm in the second frame, but the Crimson was unable to pull even with the Quakers (8-20, 5-6 Ivy), who grabbed timely offensive rebounds and hit eight of 12 free throws in the final two minutes.
“We got [the win] because we are a relatively young team and the effort and intensity and attention to detail on the defensive end tonight was fantastic,” said Penn coach Jerome Allen, whose team forced 16 turnovers and held the Crimson to 40.4 percent shooting on the night.
Despite trailing throughout the second half, the Crimson had a chance to send the game into overtime at the buzzer. With 2.4 seconds remaining, sophomore Jonah Travis sent a full-court pass to classmate Wesley Saunders, who tapped it out to co-captain Christian Webster on the perimeter. But Webster’s attempt fell short, and the Crimson walked off the court with its Ivy title hopes greatly diminished.
Coupled with the Tigers’ victory over Dartmouth on Saturday night, Harvard (17-9, 9-3) now trails by a game in the loss column with two contests remaining.
For the Crimson to extend its season, Harvard will need to sweep next weekend’s contests against Cornell and Columbia, and the Tigers (19-9, 9-2) will need to drop one of their three remaining road contests at Brown, Yale, or Penn.
“As I mentioned to our kids, we have seen a lot of interesting things happen in our league already,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “We have two games to play, and we are going home. No matter what happened here [Saturday night] or [Friday] night, it’s the same: We are going home to finish out our regular-season schedule.”
The Quakers received stellar performances from two of its rookies—freshmen Tony Hicks and Darien Nelson-Henry—who combined for 42 points, 15 rebounds, and six steals.
Coming off a 23-point effort in the Quakers’ 69-64 loss to Dartmouth on Friday night, Hicks continued to fill the basket on Saturday. The guard posted a game-high 24 points on 9-of-17 shooting and added five assists and three steals.
“I thought he was the difference,” Amaker said.
In the post, the Crimson couldn’t find an answer for the 6’11” Nelson-Henry who posted a double-double with 18 points (8-of-13 shooting) and 11 rebounds.
Harvard center Kenyatta Smith—whose near triple-double was critical to the Crimson’s victory over the Quakers earlier this season—was neutralized on the offensive end, posting seven points on just two-of-seven shooting.