The seven Crimson first-years make up one of coach Kathy Delaney-Smith’s biggest classes ever, and several of them have seen significant action this season.
But with the Ivy title on the line amidst Senior Night festivities at Lavietes, Delaney-Smith left the young ones on the bench and let her seniors carry Harvard to its biggest—and most hard-fought—victory of the season.
The Crimson’s senior trio of co-captains Lindsay Hallion and Jessica Knox and forward Adrian Budischak were the three bright spots for Harvard in Saturday’s slugfest against Cornell, a 51-48 win for the Crimson in which both teams shot 32 percent from the floor and combined for just 37 field goals.
Consistent performers like juniors Emily Tay, Niki Finelli, and Katie Rollins combined for an uncharacteristic 6-of-26 performance from the floor and just 16 points.
But Hallion and Knox, in their last game at Lavietes, made it a memorable one.
Each stepped up to the line and calmly buried a pair of free throws with under a minute left. In both cases, the co-captains found themselves on the charity stripe with Harvard clinging to a one-point lead.
“Honestly, this sounds horrible, but I didn’t know what the score was, I didn’t know what the time was,” Knox said of her game-sealing free throws with two seconds remaining. “Before the game, I was shooting free throws and telling myself, ‘This is for the Ivy League championship.’ So stepping up, I said, ‘It’s cool, I’ve already done this.’”
Budischak, who has endured a frustrating series of injuries and surgeries throughout her time at Harvard, played the game of her life against Cornell. Her hustle on both ends of the floor—twice she sprinted the full length of the court to grab an offensive rebound after a missed Crimson basket in transition—gave Harvard crucial second chances on the offensive end. On the night, Budischak tallied an eye-popping seven offensive rebounds and had 11 total boards for the game.
“When we were in [the locker room], Lindsay said ‘This is the best Senior Night ever,’” Knox said. “All of our seniors in there stepped up and made big plays at the end of the game. It feels so good.”
The unquestionable story of the night was the absence of Cornell forward Jeomi Maduka, the Big Red’s unstoppable, athletic forward who averages 14.1 points and 7.7 rebounds per game.
Maduka scored 13 points and had eight boards in the Big Red’s losing effort against Dartmouth the night before. The two-sport standout in basketball and track and field then returned to Ithaca, N.Y. for the Indoor Heptagonal Championships on Saturday. Maduka won an individual title in the long jump—recording the third-longest jump of the year in women’s college track and field—but the Big Red basketball team seemed lost without her in Cambridge.
“There are positives and negatives, but overall it was a negative situation [for Cornell],” Delaney-Smith said. “It’s unfortunate that they lose at the buzzer last night and lose Maduka tonight.”
Without its star forward, Cornell stuck to a perimeter game, putting up 25 three-pointers and rarely finding anything to work within the post.
When the two teams played in Ithaca, an 85-61 Cornell win, the Big Red outrebounded Harvard, 45-25, and scored 28 points in the paint to Harvard’s 16.
Maduka’s absence found its way into the box score on Saturday night. Harvard bested Cornell on the glass 42-40 and owned a decisive 28-12 margin in the paint. Rollins and Budischak had free reign in the lane, and the Crimson corralled many of the long rebounds that the athletic Maduka would have scooped up and put back in for a quick two.
A TALE OF TWO CITIES
In Ithaca, Cornell started on fire and buried Harvard with a flurry of three-pointers early in the first half.
On Saturday, however, neither team found its offensive groove all night, but it was the Big Red’s inconsistent perimeter game that eventually put the Crimson in the driver’s seat.
Cornell’s dependence on the long ball showed as the game wound down. On the Big Red’s last possession, with Harvard up 49-46, the visitors needed a three to force overtime. The Crimson clamped down on defense to counter Cornell’s four-guard set, and the visiting team looked lost when nobody was open beyond the arc.
The Big Red made nine three pointers in the teams’ first contest and shot 50 percent from behind the arc. Big Red guard Gretchen Gregg, the nation’s leading three-point shooter, made four threes in Cornell’s Feb. 15 win.
This time, Harvard was ready for her. Maduka’s absence allowed the Crimson to key in on the Big Red’s perimeter game. Tay locked down on Gregg, who had a hand in her face every time she hoisted a shot. Gregg hit just one three and finished 1-of-8 from the floor.
“We were trying to focus on are a couple of their shooters who really hurt us last time,” Knox said. “Emily started on [Gregg] and didn’t let her get anything. Between Lindsay and me it was stopping the drive and providing early help. It was really about everyone knowing their roles and playing them well.”
Cornell still made seven three-pointers but shot just 28 percent beyond the arc for the game.
—Staff writer Aidan E. Tait can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.