Heading into Levien Gymnasium a year ago, the Harvard men’s basketball team was angry and determined.
The previous game, a 57-49 defeat to Cornell that dropped the Crimson into a tie for first in the Ivy League, had been frustrating. Harvard had just 21 points in the first half and never led in the second as its eight-game winning streak ended with a whimper. A team that routinely struggled offensively made just 25 percent of its shots, its worst performance of the season. Heading into the Lions’ den, there was no more room for error.
A year later, the Crimson (10-14, 2-6 Ivy League) can only hope for the same ending: an 80-70 victory where the visitors never trailed. Harvard heads to Columbia (17-8, 6-2) on Friday with vengeance again on its mind but with the hosts—not their traveling partner—on their mind.
Columbia’s 55-54 victory over Harvard three weeks ago stands in a winter of tough losses as the one that got away from the Crimson. Back-to-back missed free throws from 40-plus percent three-point shooters opened the door for Lions senior Alex Rosenberg’s buzzer beating fadeaway, a basket that visibly shook the Crimson.
Captain Evan Cummins dropped his hands to his knees as the basket went in, with the team’s three seniors watching a parade of Lions rush a court where none of them—coach Kyle Smith included—had ever won. The celebration, a raucous one in front of the Harvard bench, was unlike anything a visitor had done in Lavietes since Cummins arrived to campus.
Junior Zena Edosomwan, who left the game with injury with Harvard safely in the lead, did not provide any bulletin board material when asked about the game this week.
“I thought about it and I’m ready,” Edosomwan said. “I want to let the play do the talking. That game was a heartbreaker and I’m excited about [the rematch].”
While Harvard’s record since the game is only a game worse than Columbia’s, who failed to capitalize on late-game opportunities versus Princeton and at Yale, it enters the contest four games behind the Lions in the league standings.
Multiple players have noted the difficulty of enduring the run of defeats; after the team’s fifth straight loss two weeks ago, senior Patrick Steeves said “I don’t think anybody expected this.”
Yet, Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said that he was happy with the team’s effort last week. The Crimson notched its second Ivy League win of the season last Friday, taking down Brown, before an expected loss against league leader Yale.
“I thought we played with great energy and sense of purpose [last weekend],” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “The spirit is great and the kids are going to be ready to compete on Friday.”
The Crimson has plenty to build on coming into the weekend. Harvard averaged just 11.5 turnovers in the two losses and had a rare good day at the free throw line against Brown, making 74 percent of its attempts. Against Cornell and Columbia, who pressure the ball as intensely as any non-Princeton Ancient Eight squad, Harvard will need to take care of the ball.
Another bright spot during the weekend was Harvard’s defense. Harvard held both Brown and Yale under 45 percent shooting from the field, while limiting the two teams to a combined 19 second-chance points—getting a noticeable boost from having Edosomwan, the team’s best defensive rebounder, in the lineup.
“Even if the offense is stalling, the defense can do all those things to make sure the other team is not scoring,” Edosomwan said. “That’s how it was last year. Offensively we were not a great team but our defense kept us in a lot of games.”
The defense will be crucial as Harvard begins its six-game set of rematches. Since the arrival of the team’s current seniors, the Crimson has never lost twice to the same opponent. Against two opponents that handed Harvard difficult losses, the Crimson has an opportunity for retribution.
“I’m excited for where we can certainly be after the weekend,” Amaker said. “A lot … is on the table for our team to gather and I am still hopeful that we will have the fighting spirit to go after it.”
—Staff writer David Freed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.