This was the case Saturday afternoon, when Basketball Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer patrolled the opposing sideline and ultimately earned her 1,003th career win in a 60-49 victory for the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Despite the double-digit loss of 60-49 at the final buzzer, Harvard clawed its way back from a 14-point fourth quarter deficit through an invigorating 13-2 run.
A Scarlet Knights team that had largely outmuscled and out-defended its hosts in the first 30 minutes of the contest seemed flustered by the Crimson’s sudden fury of high-paced offense in the final frame. Junior sharpshooter and lead scorer Katie Benzan knocked down a triple at the 7:07 mark to close the gap to seven. Junior forward Jeannie Boehm then located a cutting guard in first-year Maggie McCarthy for an easy layup. Boehm’s dish was reciprocated on the next possession with a fast-break finish as the Scarlet Knights lead shrunk to five.
“We switched up our offense just because [Rutgers] was in the passing lanes,” Benzan said. “We wanted to see if we could attack to the rim and see if we could create some offense in a different way. So I thought the spacing, the court really helped us with that ball movement.”
Holding strong for two more minutes, the Crimson executed a brilliantly designed in-bounds play that saw co-captain Sydney Skinner flush a mid-range jumper to draw the game to a 46-43 scoreline heading into the final three minutes of play.
Much to the dismay of the animated home crowd, this one-possession deficit was as close as Harvard would get in its comeback campaign. Two consecutive Rutgers steals brought the margin back to double digits, and Benzan’s flurry of triple attempts was of no avail as Harvard dropped its third consecutive game as part of a four-contest homestead.
“It was a tough one and it was frustrating, especially when we picked up the intensity and energy...and made like a really nice comeback,” Benzan added. “..It was just a bummer that we didn’t start with that intensity and energy and kept that through the entire game. But we played really hard and it was a good fight. So we can’t be too disappointed.”
Despite the late excitement, the Crimson as a whole largely struggled creating offensive opportunities in the face of its outsized opponents. From the field, Harvard shot 17-of-53 and was 27.6 percent from deep. For a three-point dependent squad, eight conversions over 29 attempts combined with 22 turnovers and 11 Scarlet Knights steals encapsulated the overall sluggish outing.
“We knew they were going to be athletic and scrappy, but the turnovers are hardly forced by them,” Delaney-Smith said. “... And then we didn’t hit the big shots that we should hit...Rutgers is great, athletic New York City basketball. So that’s a tough matchup.”
Rutgers redshirt sophomore Arella Guirantes and senior Stasha Carey posed serious issues for the Crimson in the interior, each tallying 19 points on 13-of-22 combined shooting. Of the 10 Scarlet Knights who logged playing time, six members stand at six foot or taller.
“We were just late to [Carey],...we adjusted and then someone else would be late to [Carey],” Delaney-Smith said. “We shut them down pretty well until you have to follow them. I was not displeased with our defense, [but] very displeased with our offense.”
With the absence of co-captain Madeline Raster due to a sprained ankle, the Crimson saw some important contributions from its underclassmen. Sophomore Maria Guramare and first-years Tess Sussman and Maggie McCarthy saw action in the contest. McCarthy in particular has stepped up with critical minutes in the past two contests, totaling 15 combined points in 48 minutes.
“[McCarthy’s] toughness, resilience and just her attitude...it’s so much fun to play with her,” Benzan said. “I’m really happy to see her hard work paying off and her just seizing the day.”
Alongside Benzan’s team-leading 18 points, Skinner was the other lone Harvard player in double digits with 14 points. The remaining Crimson players did not score more than four points individually. Sophomore forward Rachel Levy dressed in the starting lineup for the first time in her short career, earning 22 minutes and three points.
Overall, this was the fourth-ever meeting between the two sides, with the Crimson falling in the two team’s last encounter at the 2014 WNIT. Between Coach Delaney-Smith and Coach Stringer, the two have completed 83 seasons in the college ranks. With Harvard having challenged two storied programs this season — Notre Dame and Rutgers — those like Benzan have appreciated the rare opportunities while also maintaining a tempered outlook.
“It’s cool, I’m not going to lie...they’re big names,” said Benzan on playing in front of Coach McGraw and Coach Stringer. “Growing up, I’ve watched them on TV in the tournament, so it’s very cool to play against them. But again, they’re just people so you got to go out there and just play. They have to do all the same things.”
— Staff writer Henry Zhu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Zhuhen88.
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