Looking to avoid its worst start since the 2011-12 season, the Harvard women’s basketball team returned home to the Lavietes Pavilion in search of its first win of the year against visiting Siena. For much of the first quarter, however, it looked as if the Crimson was headed for its third loss in a row.
Much like in its first two games, the home team found itself in a big hole early on. Against the Saints, this hole amounted to a 14-point deficit just 9:34 into the contest. However, with the backing of the crowd, Harvard (1-2, 0-0 Ivy) came back and notched its first win of the year, 75-67. Siena (1-2, 0-0 MAAC), after faltering in the second and third quarters, fell back to under .500.
“It was tricky, because we started so badly,” coach Kathy Delaney-Smith said. “But it feels great.”
The opening quarter was all Saints. After trading a few baskets, the visitors put together an impressive 13-0 run. Delaney-Smith called a timeout midway through in an attempt to stop the bleeding, but Siena managed to extend the lead to 21-7 just before the end of the quarter.
“In the first quarter, it was clear that our intensity just wasn’t there and they just wanted the ball more,” sophomore guard Katie Benzan said.
With a few ticks on the clock in the first quarter, junior guard Sydney Skinner knocked down a three-pointer from the right wing to make the score 21-10. From there, Siena was unable to carry its momentum into the second quarter.
The Crimson jumped out of the gate strong, going on a run of its own. A three-pointer by Benzan made the game 21-15, extending Harvard’s run to eight straight points. Benzan would finish the night with a team-high 22.
“We changed some of our defense [in the second quarter],” Delaney-Smith said. “We did a little zone action, and they didn’t seem to like the zone, and that pumped us up.”
The Saints called a timeout to try to prevent the run from getting out of hand, but Harvard forced a quick turnover and layup. By the time Siena was finally able to end the run, the score was 21-19.
After the two teams traded free throws, Crimson senior guard Taylor Rooks dove for a loose ball in the paint and poked it away from a crowd of Saints players to captain Madeline Raster. Raster grabbed the ball and fired a pass right back to Rooks, who finished the play with a layup to tie up the score at 22.
Just like that, Harvard and Siena were back at square one, and the game would stay close for the rest of the second quarter.
Both sides found any semblance of momentum slowed to a halt by a controversial turn of events at the 3:46 mark of the quarter. The Saints attempted a three as the shot clock was expiring, and the shot missed the rim, falling into the hands of Rooks. After the referee took the ball from her due to confusion as to whether a shot clock violation had occurred, the referees finally ruled that Rooks had caught the ball before the buzzer sounded, returning possession to Siena.
A couple baskets later, the two teams went into intermission separated by just one point, with the Saints holding a 29-28 lead.
“During halftime, Kathy really emphasized defense,” Benzan said. “In the beginning of the third quarter, we just got three stops in a row, we just went out and scored and we just got our momentum from that. We were just grooving.”
A few minutes later, back-to-back threes by Raster and Benzan put the Crimson up 41-33, its largest lead at the time. The pair of guards were an offensive force on the night, combining for 37 points.
With less than three seconds left in the third quarter, Benzan was fouled under the basket. After hitting the first free-throw, freshman forward Jadyn Bush grabbed the rebound and put it in at the buzzer. The three-point swing gave Harvard the lead 52-43 heading into the final period.
The Crimson held its lead for most of the final frame, but with just over one minute to go in the game, Siena threatened Harvard’s lead by hitting back-to-back three-pointers to pull within four. A technical foul on the Saints’ coach allowed the Crimson to regain control, however, as Benzan hit one of two technical free-throws.
Siena still refused to go down quietly, quickly knocking down another three on its next trip down the court to make it a one-possession game at 67-64. In the ensuing possessions, Harvard was able to make its free-throws under pressure and prevent the Saints from cutting into the lead any further, sealing the final score of 75-67.
“If we execute our system, we’re way better,” Delaney-Smith said. “And that’s what we’re going to do going forward.”
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