UPDATED: March 18, 2017 at 3:42 p.m.
All season, the Harvard men’s basketball team has been a study in the art of a comeback. The team has found itself on both ends of comebacks, including a collection of heartbreakers in the final games of the season. On Saturday night, it looked like the team had a chance to reverse its luck in buzzer beaters, but that wouldn’t be the case.
Freshman guard Bryce Aiken did everything he could to will the Harvard men’s basketball team to the Ivy League Tournament finale, but his 28 point effort wasn’t enough to overcome Harvard’s cold shooting. After beating Yale (18-10) in its first two contests of the regular season, the Bulldogs upset the Crimson, 73-71.
Though Harvard (18-10) trailed for 58 minutes of the contest, including by as many as 13 in the second half, the Crimson had life in the waning minutes. Trailing by five with 1:31 to go, Aiken got the ball at the top of the arc and dared Yale senior Sam Downey to stop him, but the 6’9’’ Downey couldn’t stop 6’0’’ Aiken and the Harvard rookie pulled his team within two. After a timeout, Harvard co-captain Siyani Chambers fouled Bulldog sophomore Trey Phills, who hit 1-of-2 free throws, but gave the Crimson the ball back with 21 seconds to go.
Yale knew Harvard would be looking for Aiken, and it was right. The Crimson got Aiken the ball and he put up a deep three that was no good. A long rebound was tipped out of bounds by the Bulldogs, giving Harvard another shot at a tie with 10.6 seconds on the clock.
Freshman forward Seth Towns inbounded the pass to senior center Zena Edosomwan, who simultaneously set a screen and handed the ball off to Chambers in the corner. Chambers was once again looking for Aiken’s hot hand. But once again, Yale knew it was coming, and Bulldog freshman Jordan Bruner intercepted Chambers’ skip pass.
“I’m pretty sure everyone on the floor knew Bryce was getting the ball,” Bruner said.
Bruner then iced the game with a free throw with six ticks on the clock, putting Harvard down four points. Edosomwan would get the last bucket of the game off an offensive rebound recovered after an Aiken miss, but all Yale had to do was inbound cleanly to seal the victory.
“You have to congratulate Yale for a tremendous effort on their part,” Amaker said. “I thought they played with great poise, made the necessary plays to close the game out but certainly our kids deserve a lot of credit for competing very hard.”
While Aiken was red hot, the rest of the Crimson roster couldn’t buy a basket. Though Harvard came into the game with the best offense in conference play, the Bulldogs held the Crimson to just 35.1 percent shooting from the floor. Even Aiken, who took the Harvard offense over, shot an inefficient 11-for-25. Most notably however was the poor shooting of freshman Seth Towns and sophomore Corey Johnson, who shot a combined 3-for-24, including 2-of-16 from behind the arc.
“We just didn’t have an opportunity to finish and convert in the moments when we had to,” Amaker said. “We were open, we had open threes and we wanted to take them, that’s how we’ve gotten to this point but we certainly didn’t have it this afternoon.”
It took nearly three minutes for Harvard to get on the board in the contest. The team started 0-for-5 from the floor until freshman forward Chris Lewis cleaned up a Towns miss under the basket.
Coming into the weekend, Amaker noted a few keys to the game for Harvard success—rebounding and slowing down Yale sophomore Alex Copeland were two big ones.