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By Sam Danello, Crimson Staff Writer

This Saturday, with 6:30 left to play in a home matchup against Yale, Lavietes Pavilion did not seem like the scene of a miracle for the Harvard women’s basketball team (9-11, 2-4 Ivy).

The Bulldogs (11-9, 5-1) had trimmed a double-digit halftime deficit to two, culminating in a jump shot from junior guard Nyasha Sarju. Then, with the shot clock about to expire on the next Crimson possession, a Yale defender wrestled with senior forward Erin McDonnell for the ball and a chance to tie the game.

But in one motion, McDonnell jumped, wrested control, and threw up a prayer. The improbable shot banked in, eliciting the loudest roars of the night from the Harvard crowd.

“That was kind of a Hail Mary and luck,” McDonnell said. “[I] did not practice the bank.”

McDonnell’s trey jumpstarted a 10-0 run that flipped the momentum and ultimately gave the Crimson the game, 65-55.

“Before the game, [Harvard coach Kathy Delaney-Smith] told all of us that every single one of us needs to step up,” freshman guard Kirby Porter said. "It was a huge team effort tonight.”

Even so, the Bulldogs introduced some drama in the final minutes. With 2:02 left, a Yale jumper made the game a two-possession contest.

But senior forward Temi Fagbenle staved off the comeback by scoring seven of the Crimson’s last eight points, which included a perfect performance from the charity stripe.

Throughout the contest, Harvard employed a pressure defense in the half-court that gambled on the Bulldogs' inability to make open threes. Especially in the first frame, the strategy flustered Yale, who committed 10 turnovers before intermission and did not make its first shot beyond the arc until after 19 minutes of play.

“It was the correct risk for us to take tonight, I feel,” Delaney-Smith said. “It was obvious to us that Yale was on its heels, so if [we] stay in the play, we won’t let them off the hook.”

Defensive intensity was a large reason for a 13-3 Crimson run at the end of the first period that opened up a double-digit lead. Porter began this stretch with three consecutive baskets en route to a career-high nine points and seven rebounds.

Midway through the second half, the Bulldogs clawed back thanks to a 7-0 streak. The stretch was part of a larger five-minute period in which Harvard failed to score a single basket.

McDonnell, who is shooting 43 percent from behind the arc this season, led the Crimson with 18 points, all of which came off three-pointers.

“I had my feet set a lot earlier than I usually do,” McDonnell. “That gave me better timing and a better rhythm. Once two go in, the rest go in.”

The senior also grabbed eight rebounds, second on the team to Fagbenle, who finished with 17 points and nine boards.

“Our offensive strategies were just to execute because we have an unreal offensive system and all the talent to score,” McDonnell said. “We just tried to use all the tools in our toolkit and run our offenses…. When we run them, people can’t stop us.”

Yale guards Tamara Simpson and Sarju provided much of the offense for the visitors. On the game, the backcourt mates combined for 27 points on 12-of-25 shooting.

A matchup marked by intensity began just that way, as the opening tip-off turned right into a possession tie-up. A few seconds later, McDonnell began the game’s scoring with her first three of the evening.

The victory over the Bulldogs broke a three-game losing streak for Harvard, which now sits sixth in the Ivy League. Yale entered the contest without a conference loss and in a tie atop the league with undefeated Princeton, who now has sole possession of first place.

“I think this is a big turning point for us,” McDonnell said. “We’ve had some unfortunate tough losses, so I think we really needed this as a team to remember how good we are [and] how good we can be.”

—Staff writer Sam Danello can be reached at

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