Harvard (13-9, 6-3 Ivy) was fresh off of a weekend sweep at Penn and Princeton, just the 14th team to do so in history, but started sluggishly and were unable to overcome the turnovers and deficit on the road. The Crimson were lead by a career-high 28 points from freshman Noah Kirkwood, who drilled 5-of-9 from beyond the arc and only turned the ball over just once. But the Bears (16-9, 4-5) refused to be denied on their home court, led by 30 points from sophomore Desmond Cambridge.
“Cambridge is a tough cover for anyone in this league,” said Kirkwood. “I felt like I could have put a bit more emphasis on my defense.”
Cambridge, last season’s Ivy League player of the year, was completely shut down by Harvard’s Justin Bassey, scoring a season-low four points on 1-of-13 shooting. Bassey, one of the Crimson’s most important all-around players, picked up an injury early in Friday night’s contest, and only played 15 minutes.
In the absence of the Denver, Colo., native’s presence in the Harvard lineup, Cambridge was able to expose the play of Kirkwood and other defenders. The Hun School product shot 5-of-8 from three-point territory, and was visibly fired up early and often, exalting the Pizzitola Sports Center crowd to rise to its feet.
“I thought that Brown played with a tremendous amount of energy,” said Harvard Coach Tommy Amaker. “They defended us very well early.”
Despite whatever momentum Harvard brought into Friday night’s contest, the visitors were repelled by pesky defense by Brown. The Crimson had a slew of turnovers early and often, and fell to 1-6 when trailing at halftime. For a Harvard team that entered play 343rd in the country out of 353 Division I programs in turnovers, losing the ball 19 times was a recipe for a third conference loss of the season.
With Bassey out, Coach Amaker relied upon an unorthodox rotation that included freshman Kale Catchings. The first-year scored seven points, on 3-of-3 shooting from the field, but fouled out in just 11 minutes, committing several ill-advised fouls with the Bears in the double bonus.
“Playing really hard, competing hard, trying,” Coach Amaker said of Catchings’ performance. “That comes with being a freshman and this environment, we would hope to have older guys lead the way for him, but we’re not in that position, but I’m really happy and proud of how he played.”
Friday night’s loss was an unenviable start to a crucial weekend road-trip, as the Crimson will travel to New Haven to prepare to take on first-placed Yale on Saturday night. If Harvard hopes to defeat the Bulldogs for the second time this season, it will hope to have a healthy Bassey to guard Yale’s Miye Oni.
Last weekend’s hero and Ivy League Player of the Week, Bryce Aiken, struggled in Providence, scoring 17 points on 6-of-16 field goals. The junior guard’s difficulties came from three-point territory, where he had excelled in his last four games. The Randolph, N.J., native was able to knock down just 1-of-7 triples, turning the ball over four times in 35 minutes of court time.
Aiken will need to be as fresh as possible for Saturday night’s duel in New Haven, in a potential preview of an Ivy League championship that would be held on Yale’s campus. Aiken and the rest of the Crimson struggled mightily beyond the arc, knocking down just 11-of-32 three-pointers. Despite leading in assists, rebounds, and bench points, the visitors were unable to take a lead in the second half, and fell for the first time in 10 years to their Rhode Island rivals.
Standout junior forward Chris Lewis was another player who failed to make his presence felt through much of the game, coming alive late to finish with nine points. Lewis and Aiken’s struggles Friday night doomed a Harvard time that relied upon Kirkwood’s performance to stay close.
With Yale looming on Sautrday night, it will be essential for the Crimson to hit the reset button, with a chance to sweep the season series from their biggest rivals.
“We barely even talked about the game,” Kirkwood said. “We’ve got to kind of forget about it, because tomorrow’s an even bigger game, so you can’t really dwell too much.”
—Staff writer Amir Mamdani can be reached at email@example.com.