Despite coming back from a 15-point deficit at halftime and a 24-point effort by junior forward Zena Edosomwan, the Harvard men’s basketball team dropped its second consecutive conference matchup, falling to Cornell Friday night, 77-65.
Harvard coach Tommy Amaker consistently emphasizes the importance of the first four minutes of a half. And for the first for minutes of both halves on Friday, the Crimson was executing that plan to near perfection.
In the first half, the Crimson (9-10, 1-2 Ivy League) kicked off the contest with a 10-2 run over the first 7:20 of the game. After the Big Red (8-9, 1-2) started the scoring off of a goaltending call on Edosomwan, Harvard did not give up a field goal until freshman guard Matt Morgan hit a three with 12:40 to go. Over the next three minutes, Cornell fought back and eventually took a two-point lead off of another Morgan trey.
Despite playing without its leading scorer Robert Hatter, the Big Red offense didn’t seem fazed after escaping the early lag. Morgan was especially troublesome for the Crimson defense, finishing with 33 points, nearly half of which came from behind the arc.
The teams had stark contrast in size, with Harvard able to take advantage of the Big Red in the paint and feed Edosomwan at will, but Cornell’s speed advantage in the backcourt was too much for the Crimson to handle.
“We just couldn’t guard them.” Amaker said. “They were really small...we didn’t think our bigs could chase those smaller guys around, and sometimes you try to stick with that and make them adjust to you, but I was worried. Obviously what we tried didn’t work.”
Capped off by a buzzer-beating layup by Morgan, the Big Red went to the locker room up by 15 on the reigning Ivy League champions.
In the second half, Amaker’s four-minute mantra was clicking well past the under-16 media timeout. Despite the double-digit deficit, Harvard regained the lead with 13:29 to go. While the Crimson shot seven-of-nine over the nearly seven minute stretch that put Harvard back up, it was the defense that the team pointed to as the key to the comeback.
“We always say our defense leads the offense,” freshman guard Tommy McCarthy said. “I thought we did a great job defending them and then defensive rebounding. That kind of helped our offense a lot, we started clicking, started hitting shots.
Amaker left his five starters in for the entirety of the comeback, with all but senior Agunwa Okolie tallying points in the early minutes of the second half.
“We came out with gangbusters,” Amaker said. “They did a fantastic job of getting us back in that game and making it a game because we were certainly down and out there at the end of the first half.”
McCarthy and Edosomwan jelled for much of the night on the offensive end, especially in the second frame where Edosomwan tallied 17 of his 24 points. The Los Angeles native already had a size advantage coming into the night, but with Cornell bigs David Onuorah, Jordan Abdur-Ra’oof, and Stone Gettings all in foul trouble, McCarthy was able to find Edosomwan for lob passes under the hoop at will.
“We know Zena—most of the time he’ll have the advantage, so if I throw it up to him, 90 percent of the time, he’s going to come down with it,” McCarthy said. “[We were] kind of just trying to exploit that. They played kind of a small lineup for a little bit of the game, so we knew we could pound it inside to Z, and we knew he could finish it.”
But once again, the Big Red battled back after struggling out of the locker room and never let Harvard build a lead greater than four.
From there, the teams traded baskets until Morgan hit a three with 3:26 to go that put Cornell up for good.
But the Crimson has little time to dwell on the loss. The team turns around to play expected Ivy contender Columbia Saturday night.
When asked how the team can mentally turn around quickly to prepare for the Lions in less than 24 hours, Edosomwan was clear.
“To be honest with you, I don’t think we really have a choice,” Edosomwan said.
—Staff writer Theresa C. Hebert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.