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The Harvard women’s basketball team was able to end its non-conference season on a high note Wednesday afternoon, handing the New Jersey Institute of Technology (5-16) its latest loss with a 75-56 victory at the Estelle and Zoom Fleischer Athletic Center in Newark. This is the second win in a row for the Crimson (11-4), and the team will take its streak into conference play next week.
“It was a great way to end our non-conference season, and a great way to start out going into Ivy League competition,” senior center Elise Gordon said. “It was a great team win and it really felt good today. We have recently implemented a ‘wolf pack’ mentality, and that has really helped us with our chemistry lately.”
On the offensive side of the ball, Harvard was led by junior forward Temi Fagbenle, who had 17 points in just 25 minutes of play. Fagbenle was 7 of 12 from the floor, and 3 of 4 at the free throw line.
Junior forward Erin McDonnell and senior guard Jasmine Evans were also contributors for Harvard’s offense, each scoring 13 points.
“We’re trying to find a balance of the inside game and the outside game,” head coach Kathy Delaney-Smith said. “We found success doing that today. Elise was pretty good inside along with Temi and Erin. We also shot the three a lot better than we have in the past.”
The Crimson shot 42.1% from beyond the arc for the game. Overall Harvard had 28 makes in 60 field goal attempts, shooting at a 46.7% clip. The Crimson defense held the Highlanders to 48 shots on the night, allowing them to shoot just 41.7%.
But despite a poor shooting night, NJIT was able to hang around and remain competitive for much of the contest, aided by 13 offensive rebounds.
“We let NJIT stay in the game with their offensive boards,” Delaney-Smith said. “That was in the first half, and we made a great adjustment in the second half to come together and win the game.”
The Crimson held a 43-35 halftime lead, but could not put the Highlanders away for much of the second half. NJIT came within six points, but a quick 10-0 run, highlighted by Evans’ trey with 9:41 remaining, gave Harvard a 16-point lead, and put away the Highlanders for good.
Defense was also a theme for the Crimson, who forced NJIT to give the ball away 20 times, and was able to take advantage with 24 points off turnovers.
Senior guard Melissa Mullins led the team in rebounds and steals, posting nine boards and taking five steals. Fagbenle was close behind and had eight rebounds during the contest. Both Mullins and Fagbenle had one block. Harvard outrebounded its opponent 39-28 during the game, including 21 on the offensive glass, and was able to capitalize by scoring 30 second chance points.
“Defense has been one of our emphases this entire season,” Gordon said. “We want to be one of the best defensive teams if not the best defensive team in the Ivy League, so that’s definitely been something we have been focusing on lately.”
The lead scorer in the game for the Highlanders was junior forward Martina Matejcikova, who had a game-high 18 points. Forward Shakia Robinson was also a contributor to the NJIT offense, with 13 points on nine shots.
“We were trying to stop their low post game,” Delaney-Smith said. “They have some post players that we tried to keep out of the paint when they were driving to the basket. We gave up a little bit on the boards in the first half, but made a great adjustment in the second half.”
With the win, Harvard finishes with a 10-4 non-conference record, which is the third-best mark in Delaney-Smith’s decorated 32 year career. But the team still has work to do as it breaks for ten days before moving into Ivy League play, resuming with a home game against Dartmouth on January 25th.
“Our goal has been to try and get better as a team each game,” Delaney-Smith said. “No game is perfect and it doesn’t need to be, but there’s always something that can be worked upon. We come out of this game and say that we need to put two rebounding halves together.”
—Staff writer Ariel Smolik-Valles can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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