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Crimson fans in Lavietes Pavilion likely couldn’t help but feel a familiar sense of deja vu on Saturday as Harvard men’s basketball (12-12, 3-7 Ivy) once again slipped into an early deficit, this time in a faceoff against Ivy challengers Penn (14-11, 6-4 Ivy).
In a pattern that has been typical of its past three games, the Crimson fell behind early, by as many as 13 points. A reinvigorated second-half-rally cut led to a single three-point possession, but Harvard was unable to complete the comeback and fell behind again late to seal a fourth-consecutive loss.
Penn junior guard Jordan Dingle reflected on the hard-fought win after the game.
“It’s a huge morale booster,” Dingle said. “We haven’t gotten a win on the road in conference since January 2nd at Brown. It shows us that we can be resilient and tough in front of a hostile environment.”
Harvard entered the game with a new starting lineup, including first-year guard Chandler Piggé and first-year forward Chisom Okpara. In what appeared to be a positive start, sophomore guard Evan Nelson put the Crimson on the board early, making a free throw to give Harvard a 1-0 lead.
However, with a minute gone, Penn sophomore forward Nick Spinoso made a layup, recorded a steal on the Crimson’s subsequent possession, and passed to Dingle, who made a deep three-pointer and put the Quakers up 4-1. Penn maintained a winning margin for the rest of the matchup.
Going into the game, Dingle sat second in national NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball rankings for points per game, averaging 24 points across 23 games this season. Dingle looked determined to continue that tear, scoring ten of Penn’s first 14 points and going on to score 25 overall, on 9-for-9 on free throws and 4-8 (50%) shooting from three-point range.
Penn head coach Steve Donahue reflected on Dingle’s performance after the game.
“He’s been doing this all year,” Donahue said. “What I love about him now is he’s rebounding, he's making plays for others, he’s defending at a high level, and obviously he scores in so many different ways.”
With the attention drawn by Dingle, the Crimson had challenges defensively on other parts of the court as well. Spinoso proved especially effective in the post position, using his physicality to score around the rim and providing an effective balance to Dingle’s dynamic play.
Despite its best defensive efforts, the Crimson had a difficult time managing the plethora of scoring threats, finding themselves ten points down at halftime.
Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker reflected on the impact of Spinoso, who went on to score 16 points on 8-for-13 shooting, after the game.
“I thought Spinoso was the biggest difference,” Amaker said. “There’s not many people who are going to be able to stop Dingle – he’s gonna get shots and likely get his points, but can you clamp down on the other guys. Spinoso’s the one I thought [made the difference].”
In the second half, the Crimson attempted to chisel away at the lead. Throughout the game, Harvard shot well, making 25-56 (44.6%) of field goals and recording seven three-pointers. Despite the good shot-making, the Crimson failed to create enough scoring opportunities, turning over the ball frequently without having recorded a decent scoring chance.
With four minutes left in the second half, senior guard Idan Tretout hit a three-pointer to bring the Crimson within six points. A steal on the Quakers’ next possession from senior co-captain Luka Sakota paired with an old-fashioned three-point play from junior co-captain Sam Silverstein prompted joyous celebration and the emergence of a narrow three-point game.
The moment, however, was short-lived, as the Crimson gave up the next eight points to a resilient Quaker offense. Throughout the night, Penn did well to chill any Crimson momentum with well-timed shots, eventually pulling away with an 80-72 victory.
“I think anytime you play in this league, on the road in particular, you gotta do a lot of things well,” said Penn head coach Steve Donahue, “but most importantly you gotta play really hard. I thought the guys played really hard from the start. I thought Harvard competed at a high level as well, just at times we made some shots and they didn’t.”
The loss leaves Harvard in a difficult position in the Ivy League standings. The Crimson sits seventh in the table and would need to win its remaining four games and get lucky with other results to qualify for the Ivy Madness tournament, which is set to be held on March 10-12 at Princeton’s Jadwin Gymnasium.
After narrowly missing the opportunity to compete in a tournament on home court at the end of last season, the disappointment of missing this year’s tournament would be tangible. Despite the circumstances, Coach Amaker remains positive and is focused on the remainder of the season.
“When you find yourself in tough spots, you can either pitch in or pile on and we’ve decided that we want to pitch in,” Amaker said. “Usually you’re going to be on one side of that or the other. I thought we had the right mindset and the spirit and I’m convinced that we’ll have that going forward this coming weekend.”
The Crimson takes on Columbia in New York City on Friday night at 7:00 p.m. before heading upstate to play Cornell on Saturday at 6:00 p.m.
— Staff writer Alex Bell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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