ITHACA, N.Y—The Harvard men’s basketball players spoke to each other before Friday night’s game at Cornell. They couldn’t have another slow start after pulling out close wins three straight weekends. Eventually an early deficit or a close finish would come back to haunt the team, they said. They were right.
The Crimson scored just 21 points in the first half Friday and never led in the second half of a 57-49 defeat to the Big Red (13-14, 5-6 Ivy). The loss drops Harvard (19-6, 9-2 Ivy) back into a tie with Yale for first in the Ivy League.
Senior wing Wesley Saunders nailed a couple shots to cut that gap to three points in the game's final minutes, but the Crimson comeback petered out as the Big Red went on an 6-0 run to grab a 50-41 lead. With 1:47 left in the game, Harvard’s comeback chances got another boost when sophomore Corbin Miller stepped to the line for three free throws. Miller, an 88 percent free-throw shooter coming in, missed the first free throw. Then he missed the second. Then the third clanged off the rim as well.
“That will probably never happen again in his career at Harvard,” Saunders said afterwards. “He can knock down free throws with his eye closed.”
“It was somewhat indicative of the night for us—how tough it was for us to score,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said.
Cornell, meanwhile, made its free throws (20-for-21 overall) late to ice the game, ending Harvard’s high-wire act of an eight-game winning streak with a thud.
Senior Shonn Miller led the Big Red with 24 points and 15 rebounds. The forward bullied his way to points down low and then stepped outside for a series of jumpers. Each seemed to come at a critical time, and each seemed to fall. His reactions grew increasingly animated, as did the 3,208 in attendance at Newman Arena.
“All year, we’ve been getting good shots because we are so good at getting in the lane,” Cornell coach Bill Courtney said. “A lot of times we miss. We had a couple times in the second half when those shots went into the basket and that changes the whole dynamic.”
Courtney jokingly added that he expects at least a thank-you note from Yale coach James Jones, whose team now controls its own destiny in the Ivy title race thanks to Cornell’s upset.
Cornell had not beaten Harvard since 2010—Courtney had never topped Amaker—but the Big Red proved tough from the jump, opening the game on a 6-1 run. It ended the first-half with a final-minute alley-oop that gave the hosts the halftime lead, 22-21. The score was nearly identical to what it was when these two teams faced off in Cambridge two weeks ago.
But whereas the Crimson stormed back to win that game handily with a 40-16 second half, Cornell never let the Harvard offense get going in the second half Friday.
Courtney said he stressed to his team the importance of getting back and setting up on defense rather than allowing Harvard junior co-captain Siyani Chambers to generate easy points in transition. The result was a 25 percent shooting performance from the Crimson and its lowest scoring output in Ivy play this year.
“We didn’t earn this tonight,” Amaker said. “We didn’t deserve to win tonight, and that’s the part that’s as tough to stomach for me as any.”
Harvard stayed within striking range thanks to 21 offensive rebounds and by limiting Cornell to 36 percent shooting on the other end of the floor. Still, the Crimson could never muster enough offensive firepower to make any of that matter.
For three weeks, Harvard found offense when it needed to. It eked out a 52-50 win in New Haven, hit a bucket with 2.9 seconds left to dispatch Columbia after blowing a 17-point lead, and made up for an eight-point halftime deficit against Princeton in its last outing.
Friday, the Crimson finally got burnt by a slow start. And the Ivy League title race is radically different as a result.
—Staff writer Jacob D.H. Feldman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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