After ten minutes, the game looked all but over. Three quarters later, the Harvard women’s basketball team had pushed its opponent, Princeton, to the brink with a second half flurry, falling just short, 64-60, at Lavietes Pavilion.
The Crimson (20-6, 8-5 Ivy) put in its worst quarter of the season to start the game, but rode a couple of hot hands in a scintillating second half to fray the nerves of the most optimistic of Tigers (15-10, 9-3) fans. With the result, Harvard will be either the third seed at next weekend’s inaugural Ivy League tournament and will face Princeton again on Saturday.
“I love my team, I was very proud of the second half,” coach Kathy Delaney-Smith said. “We cut the lead with pure fight. But, why do you have to wait to do that? This is Princeton. This is who we’re going to play next weekend. And they show up like that? I don’t understand that. Shame on [my players].”
A dreadful opening exchange sunk the hosts. Freshman point guard Katie Benzan scored the Crimson’s first five points of the game, and after a 6-0 run by the Tigers to open up a 10-5 lead, freshman center Jeannie Boehm and captain Destiny Nunley hit back-to-back layups to cut the lead to one.
From there, it all fell apart as Princeton scored 14 straight points to end the quarter. Leading scorer Bella Alarie, Benzan’s primary competition for Ancient Eight rookie of the year, was at the heart of things with five points and two assists during that run. The downtrodden hosts’ fortunes were exemplified best by the final 40 seconds; following a layup by Tigers guard Vanessa Smith, sophomore guard Madeline Raster threw the ball out of bounds allowing Princeton another possession, from which Smith hit a buzzer-beating jumper off the glass.
It wasn’t just luck, however; Harvard was dreadful defensively, allowing its opponents to shoot 10-of-14 in the first quarter and made just 4-of-17 field goals in the period. On one possession, Nunley missed a layup and then allowed her defensive assignment Alarie, who had a team-high 16 points, to hit an uncontested triple. The Crimson failed to match the Tigers’ physicality early on.
“We were really, really soft, there wasn’t an ounce of toughness in the first quarter,” Delaney-Smith said. “No one on my team wanted to score expect Katie Benzan. She’s it. She’s the only one who moved and tried to make things happen. Everyone else just stood around.”
Harvard’s apparent hangover continued into the second quarter, with Princeton complacent to maintain its lead and the hosts unable to kickstart the offense. An even period ended at 11 apiece, giving the Tigers a 35-20 halftime advantage.
“We definitely [lacked] fight and heart,” sophomore guard Sydney Skinner said, “Which is disappointing for a team so deep in the season to have our coach tell us that we weren’t playing with heart. When she said that, we all woke up and realized we needed to start playing.”
After a 6-0 blitz by Princeton to start the second half—giving the visitors their largest lead of the game at 21—the Crimson finally settled down and grew into the game. With the score at 41-25, Raster caught on fire, hitting back-to-back-to-back three pointers, including a four-point play. Her individual 10-5 run cut the deficit to 14 with five minutes remaining.
“[Raster] was a deer in headlights in the first half,” Delaney-Smith said, “And then she was tremendous in the second half.”
After an Alarie layup, it was Skinner’s turn to bring Harvard back into the game. She went on a 9-2 run of her own, one that included three driving layups and three hard-earned free throws, to make it a 50-41 game. After another Alarie triple, sophomore Kelsey Bogdan, playing just her seventh game of the season, came off the bench with a three of her own to keep the game within nine heading into the fourth quarter.
After a barren run by both teams to open the final period, a Benzan three cut the lead to five, 58-53, with just under four minutes remaining. The two teams traded buckets and free throws before a Raster three cut the lead to three with 47 seconds left, part of her team-high 16 points.
After Nunley got a steal on the following possession, the Tigers fouled Boehm to send Harvard’s worst statistical free throw shooter to the line with the game on the line. Boehm hit the first but couldn’t make the second, and a pair of Alarie free throws in the final seconds sealed the defeat.
—Staff writer Manav Khandelwal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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