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NEW HAVEN, Conn.—The stretch run came early this year, but Harvard still faded down it.
Challenged by a front-loaded schedule that featured its two toughest road trips of the season back-to-back, the Harvard men’s basketball team could not withstand the pressure. After getting swept at the hands of the Killer P’s last weekend, the Crimson dropped games at both Brown and Yale this weekend, effectively ending its chance at a first-ever Ivy League title less than halfway through the conference schedule.
The late-game poise Harvard showed in its clutch, early-season road wins at Fairfield and Rider was hard to find for the second straight week. As happened at Princeton on Jan. 31, the Crimson (10-9, 2-4 Ivy) owned second-half leads in both of this weekend’s games, only to surrender crushing runs unbecoming of Harvard’s veteran lineup.
The schedule gets easier for the Crimson from here on out. Harvard hosts Ivy doormats Cornell and Columbia this coming weekend as part of four consecutive home games.
But that may not matter, as the Crimson—by far the most experienced Harvard squad of the last four years—appears also to be the one eliminated from postseason play the quickest.
“There are probably no teams in the country that have to play five of their first six league games on the road [like Harvard and travel partner Dartmouth],” said Harvard coach Frank Sullivan. “We can now regroup and go home for the next six or seven games.”
Yale 73, Harvard 68
Senior Elliott Prasse-Freeman impressed by scoring 20 first-half points, but the entire Harvard team couldn’t muster much more than that in the second frame, suffering its fifth consecutive defeat to Yale, 73-68, Saturday evening.
Trailing by five after 20 minutes, the Bulldogs used a 10-0 run midway through the second half to get back in the game, then let super sophomore guard Edwin Draughan and a deep bench hold off the Crimson in the final five minutes. Yale (10-9, 3-2) outscored Harvard 33-22 in the second half.
“I thought it was a terrific ballgame,” Sullivan said. “The Yale kids really got a lift from their fans, certainly when they came back to tie the game.”
Only the first half was “terrific” for Harvard at John J. Lee Amphitheater—and even then, almost exclusively for Prasse-Freeman.
The Harvard point guard had the best offensive half of his career, scoring 20 on 7-of-8 shooting.
But what really wowed spectators was Prasse-Freeman’s performance from long distance. He connected on 6-of-7 three-point attempts, several from NBA range, to almost single-handedly give the Crimson the lead.
“It was incredible,” said captain Brady Merchant. “We needed it.”
Prasse-Freeman hit his first trey midway through the half, putting Harvard ahead 23-22. Minutes later, he pulled up two feet behind the top of the key and drained another one despite being knocked down on the shot. He closed out the first half by scoring 12 of the Crimson’s final 13 points, all on three-pointers.
Harvard shot 54.5 percent from the field as a team in the first half and outrebounded Yale 24-13. But halftime cooled the team off—especially Prasse-Freeman.
“The second half was a little tougher for him,” Sullivan said in something of an understatement.
Prasse-Freeman didn’t score in the second half, missing all five of his shots.
“Come on, he goes 6-for-7 in the first half?” Yale coach James Jones said of Prasse-Freeman at a post-game press conference. “He’s not that good.
“Now, maybe these guys are that good,” he added, pointing to his own guards, Draughan and Alex Gamboa.
The Crimson opened up a 56-48 edge in the second half, but Yale’s bench, propelled by an inspired crowd, took just two minutes to erase that lead. The Bulldogs’ Scott Gaffield and Paul Vitelli each hit three-pointers and forward Ime Archibong thundered home a dunk to give Yale a 58-56 lead with 11 minutes remaining.
Turnovers and poor shooting plagued Harvard in the second half. In addition to Prasse-Freeman’s woes, senior Patrick Harvey went 3-of-9 from behind the arc. Harvey also turned the ball over an uncharacteristic seven times and went to the free-throw line only once.
Senior forward Sam Winter and Merchant also had a tough evening. Winter couldn’t buy a bucket—he hit his first shot to give the Crimson a 2-0 lead, then missed his last 11. Merchant was limited to 25 minutes as he picked up three first-half fouls.
The early foul trouble also hindered Merchant’s subsequent ability to defend Draughan, who finished with 16 points.
“Early in the second half [the foul trouble] concerned me a little bit,” Merchant said. “But fouls are for coaches to worry about.”
While Merchant’s playing time was limited, Harvey and Prasse-Freeman went the full 40 minutes. Conversely, Yale had nine players who played at least 15 minutes.
“I think the guys on our bench are the best in the league,” Jones said. “Our team depth just wears guys down.”
The Crimson’s 22-point second half was partly a result of its unwillingness to accept charity. Harvard went to the free-throw line only five times in the entire game—making just two—while Yale was a robust 15-of-19 from the stripe.
Brown 91, Harvard 86
Never mind shot-for-shot. The Crimson couldn’t even match the Bears shot-for-shot-for-shot.
Buoyed by a season-high 22 offensive rebounds, Harvard hoisted 81 field-goal attempts Friday night, 24 more than Brown. But what the Bears lacked in quantity, they made up for with quality, shooting a blistering 53 percent en route to a 91-86 win in another typical barnburner at the Pizzitola Center.
Despite letting a 72-66 lead evaporate during a 15-3 Brown run in the second half, the Crimson still had a chance to tie the game on its final possession. But Harvey’s three-point attempt with nine ticks left found only iron and the Bears (11-9, 6-0) converted two free throws to ice the game.
Brown, which trailed 45-43 at the half, played the way that it was expected to last year. Harvard played the way that has come to be expected every year.
The Bears—who were predicted to challenge for the league crown last year, only to flop and finish fourth—received 24 points from Player of the Year candidate Earl Hunt to claim their seventh straight win. After beating Dartmouth on Saturday, Brown now stands undefeated in the league with a legitimate shot to dethrone the Killer P’s.
As for the Crimson, the road has once again proved to be its kryptonite, a disappointment for the senior-laden squad whose resiliency away from Lavietes Pavilion during its non-league schedule suggested a better fate during the Ivy season.
On Friday, Harvard challenged the Bears—the league’s best team offensively and its worst defensively—on the hosts’ terms and paid the price. Playing at the warp-speed tempo that nearly delivered it right into the hands of Division III Roanoke last month, the Crimson saw its usual emphasis on field-goal defense go out the window.
Its shooting, meanwhile, was fast, furious and off the mark, especially compared to Brown’s 61.5 percent second-half performance. Despite his team-high 21 points, Harvey had the Crimson’s most inauspicious line, launching 28 shots—nearly half as many as the entire Brown team—while converting just eight, and hitting on just 3-of-11 three-point attempts.
The Crimson also gave up a huge advantage at the free-throw line—a development that would be repeated the next night at Yale. The Bears outscored Harvard 23-14 at the charity stripe.
As a result, the Crimson’s 45-37 rebounding edge, spearheaded by Winter and freshman Brian Cusworth, who had 12 each, ultimately went for naught.
—Staff writer Rahul Rohatgi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
—Staff writer Brian E. Fallon can be reached at email@example.com
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