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Athlete of the Week: McDonnell Shines Brightest In Final Home Game

Clutch McDonnell
Mark Kelsey

Captain Erin McDonnell's late-game heroics led her team to a win over Columbia on Senior Night.

One could say that without co-captain Erin McDonnell, the Harvard women’s basketball team could be walking away from this past weekend with very different results.

After an up-and-down Ivy season, the Crimson looked to earn its first back-to-back Ivy wins of the year in their final home stand at Lavietes Pavilion, with Cornell and Columbia in its path.

On Friday night, McDonnell played an essential role in Harvard’s breakout second half against the Big Red. Though the senior went scoreless in the first half, the second frame was a much different story.

She broke the ice about three minutes into the second half with a layup to pull the Crimson within two. That’s all it took to get her started. In a crucial 16-4 run that put Harvard back in the driver’s seat, McDonnell scored seven of her 15 points on the night.

On the Crimson’s next offensive possession, it was McDonnell for three. The score was knotted at 30-30. Just over two minutes later, she knocked down another from deep.

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With 12 minutes to go, she added another two after snagging an offensive rebound off of a miss from junior guard Kit Metoyer. As Harvard expanded its cushion to eight points, McDonnell contributed five more points in less than a minute, and from there the Crimson cruised to the 60-54 victory.

Saturday night, McDonnell capped off the win in a more dramatic fashion. She scored 15 points in the game, but it was the final three with 58 seconds remaining that made all the difference. After a back and forth game against Columbia, McDonnell found herself at the top of the arc with the game on the line and no defenders in sight. She received the ball from junior guard Shilpa Tummala and sunk a three to seal the win.

“I felt good that this team was going to find a way to win,” Harvard coach Kathy Delaney-Smith said. “[But] I did get nervous with that last shot.”

Two possessions later, the clock wound to zero and the Crimson had completed its first weekend sweep of the year. The bench erupted, and McDonnell and co-captain Kaitlyn Dinkins celebrated their senior night victory over the Lions.

Though the team is out of contention for an Ivy title, being able to get a victory for her team was the most important thing for McDonnell on Saturday night. Along with her 15 points, she also added four rebounds and three assists.

“We played with so much heart because it was our senior night and we love each other so much,” McDonnell said. “We just wanted to show how much we love each other on the floor.”

But to her teammates, McDonnell’s ability to step up in clutch moments is no surprise.

“All of us were so pumped, but that’s just who Erin is,” junior forward AnnMarie Healy said. “If she needs to step up and hit big shots she will…. That’s exactly who we wanted to shoot the ball at the end of the game.”

McDonnell is near the top on the team in nearly every shooting statistical category. Most impressive is her 41.8 percent shooting percentage from behind the arc and averaging 2.3 triples per game. She has scored in double figures in 23 games this season.

Along with being a consistent threat from deep, McDonnell makes up a third of Harvard’s dominant frontcourt trio including Healy and senior forward Temi Fagbenle. With each of these starters towering over six feet tall, height advantages have helped Harvard all season. Just this past weekend, the Crimson outscored Cornell in the paint, 32-12, and Columbia, 36-26.

As one of the team’s best three point shooters and leading scorers, the senior has played a quintessential role on the court all season, but her role as a captain expands far beyond her ability to sink shots from deep.

“Erin is an incredible person along with being an incredible player,” Healy said. “Both on and off the court she is just so fun to be around and always knows whether we’re playing a game or in life…how to pick us up. She’s a great leader both on and off the court.”

—Staff writer Theresa C. Hebert can be reached at thebert@college.harvard.edu.

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