Clinging to a one-point lead versus rival Yale (12-15, 6-7 Ivy) with just under a minute left, the Harvard women’s basketball team (20-7, 10-3) needed a basket to end a two minute scoring drought and attain a historic win for head coach Kathy Delaney-Smith.
Junior forward Temi Fagbenle did just that, knocking down a jumper to put the Crimson up, 68-65, with 35 seconds left. These two points, paired with strong defense on the other end, clinched win number 515 for Delaney-Smith, making her the all-time winningest coach in Ivy League history, passing former Princeton men’s basketball head coach Pete Carril.
“Pete was such an icon, such a great [coach],” Delaney-Smith said. “[The fact that] I’m in the same sentence [as him is something] I should be very proud of.”
The Crimson was never able to separate itself from the Bulldogs until the end of the second stanza, and neither team could establish a lead larger than seven points throughout the game.
Fagbenle recorded her second straight double-double, her 11th of the season. The junior led Harvard with 23 points and 12 rebounds while senior guard Jasmine Evans chipped in 11 points on four-of-eight shooting. Evans also had four assists, providing a spurt of energy off the bench with key drives throughout the game.
“The drives [were working], whether it’d be driving for the layup or the drive and the kick,” Evans said. “We did a really good job of drawing their defense [in] and finding the open player…. It was working for us the whole night."
The first half saw the Crimson go back and forth with Yale, as the lead changed hands six times throughout the period before Harvard went on a 12-3 run to take a 35-28 lead. Sophomore guard Kit Metoyer helped lead the run with a slick crossover to shake her defender before hitting a step-back jumper from beyond the arc, the first of her back-to-back three pointers during this stretch.
Yale would answer with five straight points in the last 28 seconds of the game, including a buzzer-beating triple by guard Lena Munzer, to shrink the gap to two heading into the locker room.
The second half would see each team struggle to assert its dominance over the other, with both teams relinquishing six-point leads before being deadlocked at in a 60-all tie with just under five minutes left. The Crimson took a 62-60 lead as senior guard Christine Clark sank a pair of free throws, and a steal by senior Melissa Mullins would lead to one of two back-to-back layups for Fagbenle to push the lead to six.
Yale would not go away quietly as the Bulldogs responded with a 5-0 run, punctuated by a layup off of a steal by Munzer. Yale failed to convert on the offensive end following Fagbenle’s jumper, sealing the win for the Crimson on an emotional night.
“I love this team,” Delaney-Smith said. “I don’t know how the cards are going to fall, but I thought what happened tonight was just blood, guts, effort and work ethic. They were unbelievable.”
Despite the win, Delaney-Smith believes that there are still some adjustments that could be made in light of Harvard’s struggles on the night.
“Our rebounding was not good in the first half,” Delaney-Smith said. “They got 13 offensive rebounds and that’s far too many for a game, let alone a half. [Another] thing this team can get better at is execution. I don’t know that we set our screens or used our screens as well as I would like us to.”
The coach wasn’t the only one to notice the need for improvements, with the players echoing similar sentiments.
“We started a little slow on rebounds but we made the adjustment, which is a key for this team,” Evans said. “Being able to make the adjustment and stopping what has been working for them [is key].”
Even the mistakes made by the Crimson could not take away from the excitement of the win.
“I’m so happy for Kathy,” Fagbenle said. “It’s an honor [to play for Delaney-Smith]. It’s more than basketball, this program; win or lose, we stick together and she has just made that clear to us. The team is so important, and I love her for that.”