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Both benches held their breath as UMass’s Cierra Dillard released a shot from outside of the arc. The ball hit one side of the rim, then the other, then fell into the waiting arms of a Harvard player. The Crimson bench erupted in celebration as the buzzer sounded to seal a nervy win for Harvard women’s basketball (1-1, 0-0 Ivy) over the University of Massachusetts (1-1) on Wednesday night.
The Crimson overcame some inconsistent play early on and survived a late push from the Minutewomen to pick up its first win of the season at Lavietes Pavilion, 67-65.
Although Harvard managed to eke out a win, it struggled all night to find stability. In a contest that saw 13 lead changes and 32 collective turnovers, the Crimson’s play was characterized by dramatic ups and downs.
“Every single time we ran our system, we got really good looks and really good scores,” Harvard coach Kathy Delaney-Smith said. “We’re just not consistent or patient enough.”
However, Harvard’s erratic play belied consistent shooting, especially from its veterans. Senior Shilpa Tummala racked up 17 points to match her career-high total. Tummala also added five rebounds and four assists to help lead the Crimson to the win.
Co-captain AnnMarie Healy brought the team some stability as well with 18 points of her own on seven of 12 field goal efforts. The result marked the 25th game in which the senior tallied double-figure points for Harvard.
Propelled by the strong attacking play of its seniors, the Crimson came out firing. A pair of treys from Tummala and a basket from Healy put Harvard up by six early in the first quarter.
UMass reacted quickly, though, and shifted to a double-team style of defense. The change stifled the Crimson’s offense and caused a string of attacking errors from Harvard.
With the Crimson’s offense struggling, the momentum shifted UMass’s way. Led by freshman guard Bria Stallworth, who tallied a game-high 19 points on the night, the Minutewomen evened the score before pulling away in the second period for their biggest lead of the night, a six-point advantage.
“Basketball is a game of lead changes and momentum swings, so that comes with the game,” Tummala said. “I think the huge part for us as a young team and what we saw today is that we’re capable of staying consistent no matter what.”
Tummala regained her shooting touch at the end of the first half as she drained another three-pointer to start a 6-0 run for the Crimson, but UMass held firm and sent Harvard back to the locker room two points behind, 29-27.
The Crimson picked up its offensive play in the last two quarters to outscore UMass, 40-36, in the second frame. Nonetheless, Harvard was still troubled by dramatic ups and downs in its play, this time in the backcourt. The Crimson committed nine second-half fouls after giving up just four in the first period and could not seem to keep UMass off the boards.
As the clock wound down, the teams traded the lead back and forth, with neither squad ever leading by more than four points.
Freshman guard Madeline Raster converted only one of six field goal attempts on the night, but her lone bucket was perhaps the most important of the game. Holding a slim, two-point lead, Raster brought the ball up to the key. Off the pick from Healy, Raster broke the defense and laid up the ball for the four point lead and what would turn out to be the game winning shot.
The Minutewomen mounted a furious counterattack and were within a shot of the win after two missed free throws, but came up just short in the final seconds as Harvard secured its first win of the season.
Although the win came against a non-conference opponent, it’s a promising result as the Harvard as the team heads into a series of games against tough opponents.
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