Then, Bryce Aiken took over.
Cutting off-ball from the left wing to the corner, Aiken received an outlet pass from a driving Justin Bassey. Over the trailing arms of Tigers guard Jose Morales, the 33-point man swished in a composed trey while simultaneously drawing contact from his defender. This four-point play catalyzed a stagnant offense towards a commanding 78-69 finish, one that saw Aiken chalk up 24 second-half points.
“We had a few missed possessions before that so it was a much needed play,” Aiken said. “Justin [Bassey] made a great drive kicking it to me, and I just knocked down the shot. [The] momentum definitely shifted after that and there was a big morale boost we needed.”
Beyond the game-changing four-pointer — which was followed by a straight Kirkwood triple that suddenly put the Crimson(12-8, 5-2 Ivy) back in the lead, Aiken drained consecutive stop-and-pop triples to widen the cushion to seven with less than five minutes to play.
Then, the homegrown New Jerseyan pulled off another highlight-reel moment: beating defender Myles Stephens off the dribble, Aiken leaped up-and-under baseline challenger Jaelin Llewellyn to finish a blind layup off the backboard. The Crimson lead was back up to six at the two-minute mark, and stout perimeter defense eliminated the Tigers’(12-8, 4-3) chances of a comeback ending.
“The way that [Bryce] was talking kept our team together with confidence,” coach Tommy Amaker said. “[That] was his biggest attribute tonight.”
The second-half spurt by Harvard, which saw it consecutively down seven shots, came largely without the presence of lead big Chris Lewis. The junior drew his third whistle of the night on the very first possession of the second period, and would foul out by the five-minute point despite severe playing time limitations by Amaker.
In his stead, classmate Henry Welsh assumed back-up duties for defending two challenging Princeton frontcourt players — sophomores Richmond Aririguzoh and Sebastian Much. The latter big was on fire from deep, knocking through his first four attempts through pick-and-pop opportunities. The former, who leads the Ivy League in conference field-goal percentage, had another effective low-post performance on 6-of-8 shooting.
Several critical defensive stops late in the contest from Welsh helped to mitigate the presence of these two forwards who combined for 29 points, earning postgame accolades from Coach Amaker.
“We didn’t anticipate Henry having to playing that much in terms of those kinds of minutes,” Amaker said. “...But [he] had his body on the line and did as much as we could against Aririguzoh, who is a tough matchup inside. But I was pleased with all of our players.”
On the night, the Crimson converted on half of its 20 attempts from beyond the arc. One critical contributor to this statistic was the aforementioned freshman Noah Kirkwood, who flushed four out of five trey attempts. Earning more game minutes than both Lewis and starter Rob Baker, the sixth man compensated for relatively quiet offensive nights for guards Christian Juzang and Justin Bassey.
“That’s a bad boy, I tell you,” said Aiken of Kirkwood. “He was hooping today, though. He was definitely moving, so proud of him just to see his maturity and his growth from the beginning of the season, and now definitely coming into his own as a player. We needed him today and he stepped to the plate.”
On the opposite end, leading scorer Devin Cannady was held in check from distance, converting on just one triple in seven tries. Primary ball-handler Jaelin Llewellyn, a touted freshman prospect for coach Mitch Henderson, was limited to a 2-of-8, six-point performance.
“Juzang, Bassey, and Noah[Kirkwood] all did a terrific job tonight on [Cannady] on him tonight, and it definitely showed down the stretch,” Aiken said, “He was a bit tired and we took advantage of it.”
Cannady, who played all 40 minutes of the contest, was not the only player on both sides to log a significant amount of minutes in the first of the back-to-back. Teammate Myles Stephens sat for just two minutes in the contest, while for the Crimson the backcourt trio of Aiken, Juzang, and Bassey each played more than 32 minutes.
Harvard will on the bright side have a more refreshed Lewis (who played 18 minutes tonight) ready for action Saturday night at the Palestra. Penn is coming off a competitive overtime victory over Dartmouth, squeaking by in the final minute of play. Certainly no Saturday game at the Palestra has ever been considered plain-sailing, but a jolt of momentum at Jadwin may be the ingredient needed to return home back in steering position of the Ivy leaderboard. Both Harvard and Cornell currently sit at 5-2, with Yale commanding a 6-1 record at the summit.
— Staff writer Henry Zhu can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Zhuhen88.