Despite an ugly, low-scoring performance Wednesday night, the Harvard men’s basketball narrowly squirmed its way to victory, defeating Fordham 47-45 in The Bronx, N.Y.
The Crimson (4-6) sole lead of the contest came during the final seconds of play, when sophomore forward Seth Towns scored his only three of the contest to give Harvard a two-point lead. Rams senior guard Will Tavares quickly advanced the ball back to the Fordham side, but missed a corner jumper to conclude the game.
“That was not a pretty basketball game,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said, “Both teams really struggled to score and shoot the ball. To be able to fight your way to a victory like that on the road is very hard and difficult. We had to make sensational plays late to finish it and win it.”
Although the game was largely unremarkable for both teams, the Rams (3-5) will likely reflect on this game as one that they let slip away. Holding a comfortable 12-point lead in the middle of the first half, Fordham was held to just five made field goals in the second frame by a improved Harvard defense.
“We have been in a few of these games and we haven’t found a way yet to win the close ones,” Fordham coach Jeff Neubauer said. “The only thing I asked for my team tonight, because I really respect Harvard, is I asked our guys to fight and defend for 40 minutes and we certainly did that...we certainly need to find a way to get over the hump.”
Following a 25-point outing coming off the bench against Kentucky, Towns again assumed the role as the team’s sixth man to start the game.
Amaker chose to start freshman Danilo Djuricic in place of Towns while freshman Rio Haskett earned his fourth career start in place of injured sophomore guard Justin Bassey. Sophomore forward Robert Baker was also out with an undisclosed injury.
Sloppy passing characterized the opening four minutes for the Crimson. Scoring just one basket, the Crimson had difficulty positioning itself within the Rams zone defense. Fordham was able to deflect numerous Harvard passes and started the contest with a 7-2 lead.
The Rams extended the lead to ten at 14-4 at the 12:42 mark. Unlike the solid three-point shooting Saturday afternoon against Kentucky, the Crimson could not earn itself a triple until the eleven-minute mark of the first half, starting the game 0-for-9 from three-point range.
Fordham would extend the lead to 12 in the first half despite no Rams player scoring more than seven points before intermission. Over half of Fordham’s 29 first half points came from triples, with five players each tallying a single basket from beyond the arc.
Harvard would bring the game back to a six-point margin with 2:37 remaining in the first half following a layup from sophomore forward Chris Lewis. Without an imposing frontcourt defender, Fordham struggled throughout the game to contain Lewis, who scored all eight of his first half points through simple layup attempts at the rim.
Defense was a clear priority for the Crimson to start the second half. Fordham would not score a point for nearly four minutes to begin the frame. However, Harvard was unable to capitalize on the Ram’s inability to score, scoring just one basket in the first five minutes of play in the second half.
Trailing 33-27 with 12 minutes left to go in the half, the Crimson side sought some much-needed rejuvenation and Djuricic delivered in resounding fashion with a beautiful putback slam directly off of an Aiken three-point miss.
Harvard would continue to gnaw back from its deficit and by the six-minute mark was down by just two points. Towns, who finished with nine points and 11 rebounds, successfully maneuvered his way around three Rams defenders before finishing a tough layup to even the game at 37 with 6:10 to play.
Because Neubauer had consumed all but one of his timeouts at that point, the Rams were left on their own to regain some momentum. Two straight Harvard giveaways helped push Fordham’s lead back to five, but it was largely downhill from there for the Rams.
Down 45-42 with less than 30 seconds remaining, the Crimson patiently avoided taking a three. Aiken found himself trapped by three defenders on the left baseline, and instead of looking for a tough turnaround jumper, wisely located the open Djuricic underneath the basket.
After the freshman finished the easy layup, Amaker called timeout to iron out his defensive formation. This ploy proved to be masterful, as Fordham was flat-footed on the ensuing inbounds play and gifted the Crimson the ball back after a five-second violation.
Despite missing all four of his prior three-point attempts, Towns was evidently Amaker’s go-to player in that situation and delivered big for the Crimson.
“I thought we had the fortitude to get the stops necessary late and without bailing them out with fouls,” Amaker said. “I was really pleased with the effort and smarts we had to show to win this game.”
—Staff writer Henry Zhu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.