Up 25 with 3:30 left in the first half, the Harvard women’s basketball team appeared to be in control of its final regular season game.
And yet, when Brown forward Sophie Bikofsky’s three clanged off the rim, Crimson senior guard Jasmine Evans dove out of bounds to get the rebound, pushing the ball into co-captain Christine Clark’s waiting hands.
With its postseason destiny out of its control, the Crimson (21-7, 11-3 Ivy) laid it all on the floor in what was potentially the last time that seniors Clark, Evans, guard Melissa Mullins, and forward Elise Gordon would play in a Harvard jersey. Behind a fired-up defense led by the veterans, Harvard ended its season with an 87-67 rout of Brown (10-18, 4-10) on Saturday night at Lavietes Pavilion.
“I didn’t know what to think about [playing my last game], so I just didn’t,” Mullins said. “I just tried to play like normal, just enjoy being on the court with the girls…people who I just love so much. Whether or not this was the last game, there’s nowhere else I’d like to be than here with them.”
Wins from the top two teams in the league, Penn and Princeton, on Saturday night means that the Crimson is now vying for an at-large bid to the WNIT.
“I believe we still have more basketball to play,” Harvard coach Kathy Delaney-Smith said. “Hopefully the cards fall well for us. If not, this team lost to the ultimate winner of the WNIT last year, so I think we can do something, and I think it’ll be very exciting to do it with this senior class.”
The Bears appeared to have gained some offensive momentum heading into intermission, putting together an 8-0 run to pull within 19.
But that was the closest the visitors would get until the game was all but decided. The four seniors combined for 55 points, propelling the Crimson’s offensive charge.
Mullins started things off after the break, knocking down her only attempt from downtown of the night. On the Bears’ ensuing possession, Evans knocked the ball away from her Brown counterpart and laid it in on the other end. Clark then knocked down a trey, and Gordon, after a missed layup, grabbed her own rebound and scored the bucket. After a 12-2 Crimson run, the home team had taken a 27-point lead.
With 3:32 left in the contest, the seniors went to the bench to the tune of a standing ovation from the Lavietes crowd. Acrobatic, tough layups by Clark, steals by Evans, blocks by Mullins, and offensive rebounds and put-backs by Gordon showcased a senior class that refused to go out without a bang.
“We always want to play Harvard basketball, we always want to play at our level, so no matter how much we’re up by, we’re still going to play like it’s a tied game,” Mullins said.
Clark, Evans, and Gordon all tallied double digits with 20, 12, and 15 points, respectively, while Mullins, playing on a sprained ankle, chipped in eight. Gordon’s 15 points marked a career-high, finishing off a season that saw the San Jose, Calif. native battle injury.
“They’ve been playing like seniors all year, in my opinion,” Delaney-Smith said. “I don’t think they’ve been terribly inconsistent. I was happy that Elise was able to finally get in a stat line because she’s had a bad run of injuries [and] officials who, because she’s a power player, just call bizarre fouls on her.”
Delaney-Smith opted to replace usual starters junior guard Ali Curtis and classmate Erin McDonnell for Evans and Gordon, who joined Clark, Mullins, and junior forward Temi Fagbenle in the starting lineup.
Brown took an early lead, but six points in three minutes from Fagbenle put the Crimson on top for good. Then, as they did all night, the seniors took control. In a 16-1 run in which the seniors scored 11 points, Harvard jumped out to a 22-7 lead.
The Crimson couldn’t seem to miss in the first half, as 66.7 percent of both field goals and treys fell through the net, while Brown went just 39.3 percent from the floor and 12.5 percent from deep.
“I thought we had really good ball movement, really great execution,” Clark said. “I thought all of those scores came off of fives, great passes, and then just easy buckets.”
—Staff writer Samantha Lin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LinSamnity.