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Men's Basketball Fends Off BYU in Overtime Thriller at Diamond Head Classic

A Big Night
Junior forward Zena Edosomwan, shown in action against Cornell last season, logged career-highs in points and rebounds on Tuesday with 23 and 17, respectively, against BYU.

UPDATED: December 22, 2015, at 9:37 p.m.

The Harvard men’s basketball team last faced Brigham Young 37 years ago, falling by a score of 113-72 in Provo, Utah. But as ESPN’s Cory Alexander proclaimed during the broadcast at the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic, “This is not your father’s Harvard team."

Behind a night to remember for junior forward Zena Edosomwan, who logged career-bests of 23 points and 17 rebounds, the Crimson (4-6) defeated the Cougars (7-5), 85-82.

Forty minutes were not enough to decide a winner, however. After a three by BYU freshman Nick Emery gave the Cougars a four-point lead with 2:17 to go in regulation, senior forward Patrick Steeves evened the score with a jumper and two free throws on consecutive possessions. Then after BYU’s Chase Fischer hit two free throws after being fouled from behind the arc, Steeves delivered again, hitting a runner in the lane to tie the game with 29 seconds to go. Steeves scored all nine of his points in the final 6:07 of regulation.

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“Pat was dynamic for us,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “He was really the guy we went to and leaned on to make some offensive plays for us…. I thought his play was very much needed for us to come out with the W.”

With a chance to take the lead and send the Crimson packing in the final seconds of regulation, Fischer took a straightaway three which fell short as the clock wound down. Captain Evan Cummins grabbed the rebound out of the air, but not without controversy. The Cougars contested that a goaltend should have been called as Cummins grabbed the senior's shot before it could hit the rim, but the officials stood by the call on the floor.

In overtime, Harvard struggled to get stops. Led by senior guard Kyle Collinsworth, the Cougars picked apart the Crimson defense on nearly every possession. With Edosomwan on the bench after fouling out with 1:16 to go in the extra frame, BYU sent the ball down low often. Collinsworth tallied nine points in the overtime period, all from the paint or the free throw line.

But with Edosomwan on the bench, it was the team’s veterans who sealed the victory. After Steeves’s timely scoring kept Harvard in the game at the end of the second frame, it was Cummins and senior forward Agunwa Okolie who came up clutch for the Crimson in overtime. Harvard trailed by three late, but Cummins scored four consecutive points to bring the Crimson within one with 49 seconds remaining, before Okolie did his damage from the charity stripe.

With Okolie, one of Harvard’s weaker free throw shooters, on the floor in the waning minutes, the Cougars targeted the Ajax, Ontario native. But Okolie was perfect when it mattered most, hitting four free throws in the final 17 seconds of play—two with four seconds left—to increase Harvard’s lead to three. Collinsworth’s subsequent last-second heave from beyond the arc fell short, marking the only shot BYU would miss from the field in overtime.

“Free throws is one of the biggest parts of practice,” Okolie said. “We shoot probably 100 free throws in every practice. It’s just like stepping up, being confident, and taking your shot.”

Despite taking a 19-3 lead to open the first half, BYU slowly cut away at Harvard’s lead. A three by freshman guard Zac Seljaas capped a 19-5 run and gave the Cougars a one-point lead with 38 seconds to go in the half. But junior guard Corbin Miller, who had a season-high 17 points in the game, returned the favor with a baseline three assisted by freshman guard Corey Johnson to send the Crimson to the locker room up two.

The second half was a different story. While the first frame saw both teams go on huge runs, Harvard and BYU traded baskets in the second, with neither team going up by more than five.

BYU shot 50 percent from the floor on the game, much higher than the Crimson’s season average of holding opponents to 37 percent shooting. But Harvard's key to limiting the Cougar offense was defending from deep. BYU shot just 3-of-13 from beyond the arc.

“Our kids were locked in with their shooters, and that’s easier said than done,” Amaker said. “For the most part we did that…. We talked about trying to take away the three and trying to limit their opportunities on the backboard.”

Though the teams have nearly opposite playing styles, the Crimson managed to set the tone on the defensive end. Coming into the night, Harvard boasted the longest average possession length in the country—20.6 seconds, while BYU had the seventh shortest at 14.1. While both teams kept to their standards, with the Crimson averaging 19 seconds per possession on the night compared to 14 for the Cougars, BYU scored below 70 points for just the second time all season.

The Crimson does not have much time to rest, as it returns to action Wednesday for the tournament semifinals against Auburn, who defeated New Mexico, 83-78 in its first round matchup. Despite its gutsy victory, Harvard is already zoned in on the next game. In response to questions about fatigue, Okolie had no concerns.

“We have to figure it out for 40 minutes,” Okolie said. “We have to tough it out.”

“Get back at it,” Edosomwan added.

—Staff writer Theresa C. Hebert can be reached at theresa.hebert@thecrimson.com.

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