ITHACA, N.Y.—Justin Bassey buried a corner three to put the Harvard men’s basketball team up two with 51 seconds to play and classmate Bryce Aiken drilled a dagger from the elbow to lift the Crimson (11-5, 3-0 Ivy League) to a dramatic 77-71 victory over Cornell (5-13, 1-2) on Friday evening in Ithaca. It was the second year in a row that Harvard overcame a large second half deficit to beat the Big Red in the final seconds. With Aiken running the show, the Crimson stymied Cornell down the stretch, holding the hosts to two points in the contest’s final 5:09. The freshman duo combined to score or assist on nine of Harvard’s final 11 points.
For the Crimson’s two most dramatic wins this season, it has been Aiken who has taken over in the final moments. Against Houston, the Randolph, N.J. native willed Harvard to victory with 13 second half points on a night when the Crimson shot 35.7 percent from the field. On Friday in Ithaca, Harvard coach Tommy Amaker wanted the ball in the freshman’s hands when his team needed a bucket.
“Obviously they’re comfortable putting the ball in my hands and I do whatever I can to get the W,” Aiken said. “Fortunately enough, the game came down to the last couple of plays and I was just blessed to be able to make shots and make the right decisions.”
Aiken silenced the home crowd several times throughout the game, burying three second-half triples immediately following Big Red baskets on the other end. One-upping his performance against the Cougars, the 6’0” point guard, had 16 points after intermission on 6-of-11 shooting. It was largely because of Aiken that the Crimson was in the game during the last few minutes, not letting the Cornell lead get to more than five in the game’s final 16-plus minutes as Harvard struggled to get stops on the defensive end for most of the second half. With the defense swarming and his team down one with under a minute to play, Aiken made his best play of the night, deferring to Bassey to give Harvard a lead it would not relinquish.
“Big time play by him,” Bassey said. “He’s a savvy point guard, he hit the shot at the end of the game, that’s why we have him and why we trust him with the ball.”
BIG TIME BASSEY
Not to be outdone by his classmate, Bassey had a flair for the dramatic as well on Friday night. While he did not have the flashy and-ones or step-back threes that Aiken did, the Denver native did the little things right during the game’s first 39 minutes before delivering one big blow that the Big Red will not soon forget. Bassey was what he has been all season—versatile and reliable—making five of his six field goal attempts and all four of his free throws while holding sophomore guard Matt Morgan, Cornell’s most dynamic offensive player, to 10 points on 3-of-8 shooting. Bassey also had four rebounds, two assists, and just one turnover in 34 minutes. Bassey has logged at least 30 minutes in four of the team’s last five games. As the Big Red can tell you, when Bassey needs to shoot, he will.
“They still trust me to take and make that shot so I think that that trust is the biggest thing for my mindset and my confidence,” Bassey said.
But Amaker can count on the freshman to give him production in many areas, whether it is guarding the team’s best perimeter player (as he has since Ivy League play began), corralling rebounds (nine against Bryant), or protecting the ball (only 10 turnovers all season). Bassey was at his best on Friday, hitting the biggest shot of his collegiate career in his biggest game thus far.
“I just really wanted to get the floor spread and get it open so that I could attack and when I did, his man helped and I kicked it to him...he hit the big three,” Aiken said.
—Staff writer Stephen J. Gleason can be reached at email@example.com.