Both junior Bryce Aiken and freshman Noah Kirkwood tallied 19 points apiece in a game which featured 11 lead changes in the second half. The Crimson had an opportunity to tie or re-take the lead with 17 seconds remaining after an offensive rebound off an Aiken missed free throw, but Wolfpack guard Braxton Beverly denied the Crimson guard on his triple attempt.
A last-second three from Rio Haskett was not enough to salvage the visiting side, as Harvard walked off the court for the final time in front of an electrifying sold-out crowd of 5,500 at Reynolds Coliseum.
“Really tough loss for us — this is an amazing environment, it’s my first time back in many years and seeing how this is transformed, I thought the energy with the crowd was such a boost for their kids,” said Harvard coach Tommy Amaker, who played at Reynolds Coliseum while at Duke for four seasons. “Kevin [Keatts] has done such a wonderful job in how they play, they are very hard to defend. We couldn’t really guard them off the bounce.”
A combination of strong offensive rebounding in the game(17) as well as forced turnovers(17) was crucial for a Wolfpack side. Keatts’ side pressured the Crimson throughout the contest with a full-court press and limited Aiken to six conversions over 18 attempts in its 78-77 win.
“As I watched the Georgetown game, I knew those guys were pretty good,” Keatts said. “Obviously what they do is they spread you out, they run a lot of ball screens, they have motion. And they have a legitimate post that can score inside. We went into the game saying that if we were going to have a chance to win the game, we had to do a great job on Bryce Aiken. I told them that [Aiken] had to shoot a bad percentage to get his points.”
The Harvard point guard did have scoring relief in this contest, including a perfect 7-of-7 outing from classmate Chris Lewis inside and a 8-of-12 showing from the aforementioned Kirkwood. Lewis added four blocks to his name on the night — tying his personal-best — while teammate Robert Baker also logged three rejections.
But the Wolfpack’s late push to hold a slight lead throughout the final nine minutes opened up to a five-point margin approaching the final 30 seconds, proving too big of a hill for the Crimson to climb.
No player from NC State — outside of a brief hot streak from Markell Johnson and CJ Bryce — had a standout performance, but it was the balanced effort posed by numerous offensive weapons that made the difference. The Wolfpack shot below 30 percent from the extended three-point line, but five players tallied double-figures in the tightly-contested battle.
“Certainly I thought in the second half how much they got on the backboard made a huge difference,” Amaker said. “I was proud of our kids of the effort they put forth and making this an interesting game going all the way down to the wire. But not enough to beat a really good basketball team.”
The Crimson conclude its season with a 19-12 overall record and an appearance in the NIT second round for the first time in program history. Harvard will add its seventh regular-season championship to the banners at Lavietes Pavilion, and return just about all of its scoring for the next campaign.
“I’m proud of what we were able to accomplish this year,” Amaker said. “We didn’t do all that we wanted but certainly were able to accomplish a lot with what we went through with injuries and different things within our team...overall when we get a chance to reflect and digest it all, I think we accomplished a lot but not as much as we wanted.”