The Crimson, the preseason pick to repeat as Ivy champions, fell 68-62 to Dartmouth in Friday’s league playoff game in New York City.
Harvard will share the league crown with Cornell and the Big Green, and the Big Red earned the league’s lone NCAA bid in a 64-47 win over Dartmouth yesterday.
For Harvard, it was the decisive, crushing blow in a season of incredible expectations in which the Crimson was the odds-on favorite to win the Ivy Championship. Harvard entered the final week of the conference schedule in sole possession of first place in the league, only to drop its last Ivy game against Yale in stunning fashion.
Against Dartmouth on Friday, a season-long plague of dry spells, inconsistent defense, and trouble on the defensive glass returned with a vengeance.
“This year, when you look at our Ivy League losses, most of the reason why we lost is because we beat ourselves,” co-captain Lindsay Hallion said. “We have to give a lot of credit to our Ivy opponents, but that has certainly been the most frustrating thing about this season.”
The Crimson fell behind by as many as 18 points before mounting a furious comeback in the closing minutes that came up short. Down 58-40 with 6:48 remaining in the second half, Harvard exploded for a 16-2 run over the next five minutes to pull Harvard within four at 60-56 with 1:04 left.
Junior guard Emily Tay sparked the run with eight points, including a pair of three-pointers, and Hallion added a pair of jumpers.
Dartmouth, which shot a blistering 68 percent from the field in the first half, mustered an abysmal 5-for-28 clip in the second half after the Crimson switched its zone defense to an aggressive man-to-man.
But in the last minute, the Big Green calmly sank eight consecutive free throws to ice the game. Koren Schram led Dartmouth with 15 points—including three big three-pointers—and Betsy Williams and Brittney Smith each had 11.
“We didn’t run out of gas,” Hallion said. “But when it’s a minute left and you’re down by four, you have to foul. It’s bad when you’re in that position, especially that late in the game. You have to rely on them making mistakes and not just you playing well.”
The second-half comeback came after Harvard’s porous zone defense gave Dartmouth open looks from the perimeter and good position on the offensive glass. After a Liz Tindal three-pointer tied the game at 20-20 with 9:30 to go in the opening period, the Big Green closed the first half on a 22-10 run to give Dartmouth a 42-30 lead at the break.
The Big Green netted four first-half three pointers, including back-to-back treys as part of an 8-0 spurt with just over three minutes remaining in the opening frame. On the game, Dartmouth outrebounded Harvard, 39-29, pulling down 17 offensive rebounds to Harvard’s nine.
“We just didn’t bring it,” junior guard Niki Finelli said. “We were out of sync defensively, and we didn’t do a good job to stop their hot three-point shooters. We weren’t on point in rebounding, and by the time we turned it around in the second half, it was just a little too late.”
Harvard kept within striking distance because of Tay and Hallion, who combined for 40 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists.
In the final minute, however, the Crimson couldn’t break through, despite Hallion’s heroic efforts in her final game and Tay’s hot hand.
“This has been a season-long trend,” Finelli said. “Our physical game is there. It’s not a matter of whether we have the personnel or the talent, it’s a matter of being able to exexcute and use the strengths and the personnel that we have to execute. We didn’t do that.”
—Staff writer Aidan E. Tait can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.