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Harvard men’s basketball kept its Ivy Madness tournament hopes alive this weekend. After suffering four consecutive losses, the Crimson (14-12, 5-7 Ivy) needed a pair of wins against already playoff-eliminated Columbia (7-20, 2-10 Ivy) and fourth-place Cornell (16-9, 6-6 Ivy) to remain in contention for the postseason.
A strong offensive performance boosted Harvard past Columbia, 83-65, before the Crimson traveled upstate to take on Cornell. Exceptional defense and a standout, career-best scoring performance from senior forward Chris Ledlum gave the Crimson their second win of the weekend.
Harvard’s efforts saw Ledlum and first-year forward Chisom Okpara take home the player and rookie of the week awards, respectively.
HARVARD PASSES COLUMBIA TEST, 83-65
A Friday night game under the lights in New York City set the stage for what appeared to be a pivotal point in Harvard’s season. Columbia were determined to avoid a tenth consecutive defeat and played with intent from the tip-off.
Competition proved fierce in the first-half. Ten minutes into the game, the score sat level, with no more than a point separating the two teams. However, as play went on, the Crimson started to pull away. One of the key differences separating the two teams was rebounding ability.
Throughout the game, Harvard out rebounded Columbia 52-26, creating opportunities for itself on both ends of the court. By tripling the Lion’s offensive rebound numbers (18-6), the Crimson were able to score an impressive 17 second-chance points, in sharp contrast to Columbia’s four.
Lions head coach Jim Engles reflected on the deficit after the game, identifying it as one of the faults behind its ten game losing streak (which Columbia snapped Saturday with a 71-65 win over Dartmouth (9-17, 5-7 Ivy)).
"It's what we've been focusing on," Engles said. “When we don't rebound, we put ourselves in a bad spot. I thought we defended well on the first shots, but on the second shots not as much."
Harvard took a well-earned 46-38 advantage into halftime and came back out onto the court looking composed and ready to stick to their game. Responding to a quick Columbia basket, the Crimson scored nine unanswered points to secure a 15 point advantage early in the second half.
From that point on, Harvard’s offense proved too much for the Lions to handle. Led by 16 points from Okpara and 15 from Ledlum, the Crimson maintained a comfortable lead throughout the second half, going ahead by as many as 21 points with 1:30 left to play.
All in all, four Harvard players scored in double figures, with senior guard Idan Tretout adding 13 points and junior forward Justice Ajogbor contributing another 14.
HARVARD TAKES DOWN CORNELL, 73-56
The last time Harvard and Cornell met, the Crimson went toe-to-toe with the Big Red offensively, eventually pulling away late for an emphatic 95-89 victory at Lavietes Pavilion.
Since then, Cornell has continued to be an offensive powerhouse, entering Saturday’s game as one of the most dominant offensive teams in the nation, averaging 84.4 points per game so far this season.
This time around, Harvard adopted a different approach, limiting Cornell to a season-low 56 points in a performance that showcased both tough defense and efficient offensive shooting.
The difference between the two teams on Saturday night was apparent to anyone who watched the game. Ledlum scored a career high 35 points in addition to 13 rebounds and six steals in a display that made clear why Ledlum is widely considered one of the best players in the Ivy League.
Through 26 games this season, Ledlum sits second in the league in total points, rebounding, and steals per game. Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker has continuously praised Ledlum's ability and the critical role he has played on the court this season.
“Ledlum, obviously, he’s our best player,” Amaker said earlier this season. “He’s the guy that we have to play through and put things on his shoulders and he’s able to deliver.”
After breaking a four-game losing streak against Columbia the night prior, the Crimson’s shooting in the first-half reflected a renewed confidence, as Harvard shot 60% from the field in the first half.
That efficiency saw the Crimson pull ahead by as many as 15 points in the first 15 minutes of action, before a 13-4 Big Red run to close out the half brought Cornell within six points and a 40-34 scoreline with everything to play for in the second half.
Harvard’s hot start cooled slightly in the second half, as the Crimson shot an uninspired 40% from the field. However, it mattered little, as Harvard’s defense was able to limit Cornell to a horrific 5-for-23 (21.7%) on field goals and 2-for-11 (18.2%) from three point range.
Without its typical ability to generate offense and knock down shots, the Big Red slumped into a double-digit deficit with 16:11 left and never came within fewer than ten points of the Crimson, who closed out the game 17 points clear of Cornell.
In addition to Ledlum’s impressive point total, Tretout also posted 19 points and three assists, continuing a season of consistent offensive contributions. In his past ten games, Tretout has only failed to hit double-digits once.
Despite the much-needed victories, Harvard still sits one-game behind both Cornell and Brown in what is emerging as a three-way duel for the fourth and final tournament spot.
Next up for the Crimson is a showdown with rival Princeton, which currently sits in a three-way tie for first place. The matchup, this Saturday the 25th at 2:00 pm, will be Harvard’s final home game of the season before one final road game against Dartmouth on March 4th.
— Staff writer Alex Bell can be reached at email@example.com.
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