WORCESTER, Mass.—It was déjà vu for the Harvard men’s basketball team (2-4) on Sunday against Holy Cross (3-3). In a game that eerily resembled last season’s contest between the intrastate rivals, it was the Crusaders who came away with a one-point victory for the second year in a row, this time, 50-49.
“Obviously, they have changed over and we have a turnover in personnel and it is different,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “We certainly want to play a game with more pace and higher scoring and point total, but we had opportunities.”
Junior guard Anthony Thompson made a pair of free throws to put Holy Cross up four with 36 seconds to go. Looking to cut the lead to one, Crimson senior reserve forward Patrick Steeves came up short on a three-pointer. Junior forward Zena Edosomwan corralled the rebound, found point guard Tommy McCarthy, and the freshman connected on a three with eight seconds to go.
Knowing that Harvard needed to foul, Crusaders junior guard Robert Champion launched the ball the length of the court, allowing the clock to run out on the Crimson’s frantic comeback attempt. Harvard’s inability to score inside, poor free throw shooting, and turnovers ultimately proved to be the difference in what was supposed to set the tone for contests against Northeastern (5-1) and No. 5 Kansas (4-1), both tournament teams from last season, later this week.
After falling behind 9-0 to start the game, strong defense and contributions from the bench propelled the Crimson to a two-point halftime edge. Steeves, playing in just his third collegiate contest, checked in along with junior guard Corbin Miller, sophomore forward Chris Egi, and freshman forward Weisner Perez seconds before the game’s first media timeout.
The group sparked Harvard to a 13-6 run and helped hold Holy Cross to just 12 points in the final 17:02 of the first half.
“I thought our kids off the bench really gave us a shot in the arm and gave us an opportunity to make it a game and kind of saved us at the beginning,” Amaker said.
Despite the brief lead, the Crimson played from behind for almost the entire second half. The slow start to the game for Harvard repeated itself following the intermission. With the Crusaders double teaming Edosomwan, the Crimson struggled to score inside.
The team had just 20 points in the paint and only went to the free throw eight times. To make matters worse, Harvard, which is shooting 58 percent from the line this season, only converted three of those attempts.
“We didn’t do a good job finishing today,” Edosomwan said. “That’s on me and I didn’t do a good job finishing for us tonight and I am disappointed in myself. As bigs, we pride ourselves on finishing down low but chippies, in and outs, we just did not finish them.”
Freshman Corey Johnson, the Crimson’s top spot-up shooter, picked up his fourth foul with 10:25 left in the contest and his absence helped Holy Cross grow its lead to five before he returned for the game’s home stretch. The lead reached 10 with 5:26 left.
“It hurt,” Amaker said. “Corey was in foul trouble and we were going offense-defense as much as we could. The lack of timeouts, trying to use timeouts earlier in the game to stem the tide and see if we could hold on at certain times. It certainly didn’t help us to have Corey on the bench, especially on the offensive end.”
The eight and ten-point Crusader leads might as well have been 20 the way the second half began offensively for Harvard. The Crimson scored just 12 points in the first 14:43 following halftime. However, much like in last year’s contest, Harvard managed to have a shot at the end.
With the game on the line, the Crimson received contributions from McCarthy, who had been held scoreless before nailing a key three pointer and converting on a heavily contested layup in the game’s final minutes, and Johnson, who made his only three-pointer of the afternoon to cut the deficit to three with 2:03 to play.
Harvard’s best shot pick up the victory may have come with 1:02 left, trailing by two. Edosomwan could not handle a Steeves pass and, just like a season ago, Holy Cross sent the Crimson back to Cambridge with a loss.
—Staff writer Stephen J. Gleason can be reached at email@example.com.
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