Amid Boston Overdose Crisis, a Pair of Harvard Students Are Bringing Narcan to the Red Line


At First Cambridge City Council Election Forum, Candidates Clash Over Building Emissions


Harvard’s Updated Sustainability Plan Garners Optimistic Responses from Student Climate Activists


‘Sunroof’ Singer Nicky Youre Lights Up Harvard Yard at Crimson Jam


‘The Architect of the Whole Plan’: Harvard Law Graduate Ken Chesebro’s Path to Jan. 6

Men's Basketball Drops Key Contest at Penn, 75-72

Weekend sweep costs Harvard control of own destiny in Ivy race

Sophomore Kenyatta Smith's path to the basket is blocked by Penn's Darien Nelson-Henry in the second half of the Harvard men's basketball team's 75-72 loss at the Palestra.
Sophomore Kenyatta Smith's path to the basket is blocked by Penn's Darien Nelson-Henry in the second half of the Harvard men's basketball team's 75-72 loss at the Palestra.
By Martin Kessler, Crimson Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA—The Harvard men’s basketball team left Cambridge on Thursday as a heavy favorite to three-peat as Ivy League champion, boasting a 1.5-game lead over Princeton in the conference standings.

The Crimson returns to Cambridge needing a prayer to extend its season.

Following Friday night’s loss at Princeton, Harvard couldn’t keep up with Penn, falling, 75-72, at the Palestra.

The Quakers’ relentless defensive pressure stalled Harvard’s offense in the opening frame, as the Crimson was held to 26.1 percent shooting and went into halftime trailing, 38-26.

Harvard found an offensive rhythm in the second frame, but the Crimson was unable to pull even with the Quakers (8-20, 5-6 Ivy), who grabbed timely offensive rebounds and hit eight of 12 free throws in the final two minutes.

“We got [the win] because we are a relatively young team and the effort and intensity and attention to detail on the defensive end tonight was fantastic,” said Penn coach Jerome Allen, whose team forced 16 turnovers and held the Crimson to 40.4 percent shooting on the night.

Despite trailing throughout the second half, the Crimson had a chance to send the game into overtime at the buzzer. With 2.4 seconds remaining, sophomore Jonah Travis sent a full-court pass to classmate Wesley Saunders, who tapped it out to co-captain Christian Webster on the perimeter. But Webster’s attempt fell short, and the Crimson walked off the court with its Ivy title hopes greatly diminished.

Coupled with the Tigers’ victory over Dartmouth on Saturday night, Harvard (17-9, 9-3) now trails by a game in the loss column with two contests remaining.

For the Crimson to extend its season, Harvard will need to sweep next weekend’s contests against Cornell and Columbia, and the Tigers (19-9, 9-2) will need to drop one of their three remaining road contests at Brown, Yale, or Penn.

“As I mentioned to our kids, we have seen a lot of interesting things happen in our league already,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “We have two games to play, and we are going home. No matter what happened here [Saturday night] or [Friday] night, it’s the same: We are going home to finish out our regular-season schedule.”

The Quakers received stellar performances from two of its rookies—freshmen Tony Hicks and Darien Nelson-Henry—who combined for 42 points, 15 rebounds, and six steals.

Coming off a 23-point effort in the Quakers’ 69-64 loss to Dartmouth on Friday night, Hicks continued to fill the basket on Saturday. The guard posted a game-high 24 points on 9-of-17 shooting and added five assists and three steals.

“I thought he was the difference,” Amaker said.

In the post, the Crimson couldn’t find an answer for the 6’11” Nelson-Henry who posted a double-double with 18 points (8-of-13 shooting) and 11 rebounds.

Harvard center Kenyatta Smith—whose near triple-double was critical to the Crimson’s victory over the Quakers earlier this season—was neutralized on the offensive end, posting seven points on just two-of-seven shooting.

Sophomore Wesley Saunders finished with a team-high 20 points on 10 shots. The wing was the Crimson’s primary source of offense in the opening half—contributing 15 of Harvard’s 26 points—but was held to just five in the second.

After going two of 10 from beyond the arc in the first half, the Crimson received a boost from Webster and junior co-captain Laurent Rivard in the second, who combined for seven of the team’s eight second-half three-pointers.

But it was not enough to make up for the Crimson’s slow start.

Hicks sparked the Quakers offense early, scoring nine of Penn’s first 15 points to help the hosts jump out to an early 15-8 lead.

Midway through the period, the rookie gave the Quakers their first double-digit lead of the contest, rattling home a three-pointer off a kick-back from Miles Cartwright in transition to make it 22-12.

Cartwright—who entered the contest as Penn’s leading scorer—scored just four points in the opening frame but gave the Quakers their biggest lead of the period, 38-22, off a jumper with 41 seconds remaining.

“That was one of the keys to the game. They really disrupted us and got us on our heels,” Amaker said. “Transition wise they had it up our throats and had us backpedaling a lot…. Next thing you know we are down early and we are down big.”

The Crimson made use of the charity stripe in the final seconds of the first, pulling within 12 off four straight free throws heading into the break.

Coming out of the break, the Crimson began chipping away at the Quakers’ lead, pulling within seven, 44-37, off a deep Webster triple from the top of the key with 12:00 to play.

But Hicks answered with a turnaround jumper and then capitalized on a Harvard turnover with a transition layup to put Penn back up by 11. Following a Webster miss, the Quakers’ Greg Louis stuck a jumper to give Penn its largest lead of the period.

But the Crimson made another push. Fueled by eight points from Rivard and four from sophomore Steve Moundou-Missi, Harvard went on a 14-6 run to cut Penn’s deficit to five with 6:15 to play.

Thirty-four seconds later, Wesbter drilled a three-pointer in front of the Crimson’s bench to make it a four-point game.

Harvard forced a Hicks miss on the other end, but Nelson-Henry was there for the tip-in to put Penn back up by six.

Rivard answered with a triple to make it a three-point game, but the Crimson once again surrendered an offensive rebound on the other end that turned into two more Penn points.

The Crimson cut Penn’s lead to four points three times over the next 3:25, but each time the Quakers didn’t let it get closer than that.

With 13 seconds left, the Crimson finally made it a one-possession game when Chambers connected on his first field goal of the game, a running three-pointer off the glass to make it 72-69.

Penn successfully inbounded the ball to Cartwright, who was sent to the line and hit both free throws with 11 ticks left.

The Crimson pushed the ball up the court and found Webster for three to make it a two-point game with four seconds to play.

Harvard sent Hicks to the line with 2.4 seconds on the clock, and the rookie went one of two, setting up the Crimson’s unsuccessful final play.

Harvard will get a chance to rebound from its pair of weekend losses when it hosts Columbia on Friday and Cornell on Saturday to close out the regular season.

“We are disappointed,” Amaker said. “We have not played particularly well this weekend; we give all the credit to Princeton and Penn, and they did what they needed to in order to win the basketball game, but we know we can play better and we are confident that once we get home we will.”

—Staff writer Martin Kessler can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @MartinKessler91.

Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.

Men's BasketballFront Feature