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After two free throws from Samford guard Amara Mayers in the first quarter, the Harvard women’s basketball team faced a familiar situation: an early deficit.
In this case, the Bulldogs held an 8-5 lead, and 6:27 remained in the opening period.
But five shots and two trips to the line later, the Crimson took a commanding 21-10 advantage over Samford to end the first quarter.
This lead would hold the rest of the way. Coming off a two game road slide, Harvard (5-7) came away with the win despite a late surge from the Bulldogs (8-7) in the third and fourth quarters.
It was again the Crimson’s seniors who brought home the win for Harvard.
The Crimson’s three seniors—AnnMarie Healy, Shilpa Tummala, and Kit Metoyer—combined for 42 points.
“The scout is out there. AnnMarie is tough to stop, but Shilpa and Kit do a lot of their scoring off three-point shooting,” Harvard coach Kathy Delaney-Smith said. “They got their shots early, and then Samford made an adjustment to stay with them and not give them open threes.”
In a game full of runs from both teams, it was the Harvard’s rebounding and free-throw shooting that came up big.
“From the beginning of the season, Kathy has preached defensive rebounding, and she’s right,” Healy said. “When we show up and stop the drive and rebound, we win. When we don’t do those blue collar things, it’s a lot harder for us to pull out a win.”
After struggling on the boards for the past three games the Crimson outrebounded Samford 43 to 30. The team also snagged 16 offensive boards, compared to five for Samford.
“We’ve lost two or three ballgames because of rebounding, so we’ve made it a priority,” Delaney-Smith said. “It’s attitude, will, and drive. That’s what was there today. I thought we did a great job on the boards.”
Even so the Bulldogs mounted a comeback in the opening minutes of the fourth. After a quick layup, the Bulldogs had cut the lead to five.
But as it had all night, Harvard responded with a run of its own. The Crimson put up seven uncontested points to push the lead to 12 with seven minutes on the clock.
Despite two late three’s from Samford, Harvard held on thanks to a jumper from Healy and free throws down the stretch.
“It just gets back to the fundamentals and focusing in the last two minutes,” Healy said. “It’s taking care of the ball, using the full-shot clock, and not getting rattled by a run.”
After shooting 56 percent at the line in a close matchup against Stony Brook on Monday, the Crimson knocked down its shots at the charity stripe, shooting 80 percent. That free-throw proficiency was especially timely as Harvard shot a below-average 33 percent from the field.
“That was it,” Delaney-Smith said. “We hadn’t even been a normal Division I team in foul shooting. We did a much better job at the foul line.”
Despite the double-digit deficit after 10 minutes, the Bulldogs made a run before the half to close the gap. After starting the second period on an 11-3 run to pull within three, Samford ran into a staunch Harvard defense, which allowed a single field goal in the last five minutes of the quarter.
Down the stretch, the Crimson responded to the Bulldog’s offense by launching runs of its own. After a three from Samford shrank the margin to two late in the third, Harvard responded with a 9-0 run to go up by 11.
Despite the Crimson’s runs, the Bulldogs kept it close with timely three’s. Samford freshman guard Kassidy Blevins closed the third with two long three’s to cut the lead to seven entering the fourth. She lead the Bulldogs’ comeback effort with 14 of her 19 points coming in the second half of the game.
“Each team is going to have a shift in momentum and instead of losing your confidence and rolling over and dying you just have to weather the storm with some grit and determination and understand that it’s okay,” Delaney-Smith said. “I think we did a much better job of that today than other games.”
–Staff writer Troy Boccelli can be reached at email@example.com.
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