In a game that saw nine lead changes and five ties through the first 20 minutes of play, the ending was perhaps less exciting for the Harvard men’s basketball team in its final game at the Wooden Legacy Tournament.
After holding a Cal State Fullerton squad within two possessions for nearly the entirety of the second half, it was five consecutive trips to the free throw line for the Titans that would ultimately spell a 70-61 loss for the Crimson on Sunday.
All told, nine of Cal State Fullerton’s last 11 points came at the charity stripe.
While Harvard (3-4) barely held a lead in the second half, Sunday’s matchup was far from a runaway win for the Titans (3-3)—with just over four minutes left on the clock, two free throws from sophomore guard Bryce Aiken put Harvard within a possession at 57-54.
From there, however, Cal State Fullerton junior guard Khalil Ahmad took matters into his own hands. After Aiken’s layup, the guard drove in for a layup to give the Titans a five point lead.
A minute and a pair of split free throws later, the junior drove through contact and laid it in with the foul to give Cal State Fullerton a nine-point lead with 2:38 to go. From there, the Titans would score their next seven at the line to hand Harvard its second loss of the tournament.
“We could never get consecutive stops,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “Each time we inched closer, we couldn’t get another stop. They put us into a position to foul, which we did, and they did a tremendous job from the foul line shooting 23 out of 30. That’s a very solid percentage for a team on any given night. I felt that was the biggest difference in the game.”
For a period of nearly three minutes down the stretch, the Crimson couldn’t seem to find the bottom of the net. With Cal State Fullerton converting on 17 of 20 trips to the line in the second half, Harvard struggled to stay in the game late.
“They’re a tough, athletic, slashing team that Coach Taylor has done a fantastic job of putting together,” Amaker said. “I thought our inability to play without fouling was probably the biggest key of the game. We couldn’t overcome that.”
With multiple Crimson players dealing with illness, Harvard struggled to find rhythm on offense.
The Crimson’s leading scorers, Aiken and sophomore forward Seth Towns, both entered the game dealing with illness. With Towns out of the starting lineup, the Crimson struggled to make a significant push on offense after trading baskets for much of the first half.
While the Titans wouldn’t miss a field goal through the first six and half minutes of the of the second period, the Crimson stayed within two possessions for most of what became a defensive grind.
Though the defense came through to keep Cal State Fullerton within striking distance, Harvard could find no answer for sophomore Jackson Rowe.
The versatile 6’7’’ forward finished the contest with 25 points, five rebounds, and two assists—all without missing a single shot.
“I was a little disappointed we didn’t play better position defense, but [Cal State Fullerton] is very athletic with a lot of guys who can drive into the paint,” Amaker said. “[Rowe] had a tremendous game with his shooting ability and how effective he was against us from the perimeter.”
Through forty minutes of play, the sophomore shot a perfect 10-of-10 from the field and an even more impressive five-of-five from beyond the arc.
“[Rowe’s] put in the work to be able to shoot the ball from the perimeter and the number bare those facts out,” Cal State Fullerton coach Dedrique Taylor said. “When you put in that type of work, put in that type of dedication, the proof is in the pudding."
For a Harvard team that lives beyond the perimeter, the long ball simply wasn’t falling on Sunday. The Crimson shot 36 percent from deep with Aiken going 0-of-4 from beyond the arc. Despite the tough shooting, Aiken finished with a team-high 16 points while junior guard Corey Johnson added 11 off the bench.
—Staff writer Troy Boccelli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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