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Men’s Basketball Falls to Cornell, Secures Crucial Victory Against Columbia

The Harvard men's basketball team posted mixed results over the weekend.
The Harvard men's basketball team posted mixed results over the weekend. By Courtesy of Harvard Athletic Communications
By Alexander K. Bell, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard returned home from its weekend road trip more or less the same way it left, tied for fourth place in the Ivy League with rivals Columbia. The Crimson, however, now hold a crucial tiebreaker over the Lions, after storming back from nine-points down late in the second half to secure a 80-75 victory and complete a 2-0 season sweep.

With Cornell (19-4, 8-1 Ivy), Yale (17-7, 8-1 Ivy) and Princeton (19-3, 7-2 Ivy) tightening their grip on three of four postseason qualification spots, the pressure to avoid a slip up has increased for the other teams fighting for a spot in the Ivy Madness tournament.

The Lions, who secured a 73-63 victory over Dartmouth on Friday night, looked to build off that momentum and take advantage of Harvard’s 75-62 defeat to Cornell to secure a second consecutive victory and a subsequent two-win advantage over Harvard in fourth place. The Crimson had other plans and battled through 10 lead changes to level the slate at four wins apiece.

Harvard Unable to Tame Cornell, Falls to Big Red 89-76

Harvard opened up this weekend’s play on Friday night in Ithaca, N.Y. against Cornell, looking for revenge after having been defeated at home by the Big Red less than two weeks prior by a score of 89-76.

The Crimson started the game strong, pulling out to a 21-16 lead midway through the first half. The Big Red responded quickly, however, and sank two quick three pointers to regain a one point edge. After exchanging blows, the first half came to a close with Cornell senior guard Chris Manon bulldozing his way to the basket for a layup and a three point halftime lead, 37-34.

Cornell was forced into 11 turnovers in the first half (close to its full-game average this season) compared to only six by Harvard. The Big Red emerged from the halftime break likely looking to rectify some of that sloppiness and burst out on an 8-0 run to take an 11 point lead over the Crimson.

The squad will look to clinch the fourth spot in the Ivy League Tournament with its games this weekend.
The squad will look to clinch the fourth spot in the Ivy League Tournament with its games this weekend. By Courtesy of Harvard Athletic Communications

Harvard was able to put some plays together, including a 6-0 run to pull within 48-44 with 14:09 to play, and once again, 52-46, with 12:18 on the clock. That, however, was the closest the Crimson would get to regaining the lead. Cornell, ultimately outplaying the Crimson, used a 15-5 run to gain a 67-51 lead and finish off the game with eight minutes to play.

Sophomore forward Chisom Okpara led the game with 15 points, followed by 12 points for first-year guard Malik Mack, and 11 points and three blocks for senior forward Justice Ajogbor.

Junior guard Denham Wojcik also returned for the Crimson, playing 13 minutes after being sidelined since January 27th against Yale with a hip injury.

Harvard Recovers from 20-point Deficit, Takes Down Columbia, 62-59

With both teams keenly aware of the consequences of Saturday night’s showdown under the lights in New York City, Harvard’s matchup against Columbia was destined from tip-off to be an Ivy League classic.

During their last meeting in Cambridge just two weeks prior, Harvard had emerged victorious after overturning a 20-point deficit to top the Lions, 62-59. The Crimson were determined not to fall into a similar hole once again and the two teams battled back and forth throughout the first half to go in at the break with Columbia up just one point, 38-37.

In front of a sold-out home crowd, the Lions clawed to gain control of the driver's seat, opening up an 8 point lead, 48-40, five minutes into the second half before losing it, 53-51, and regaining it once again to hold a nine point advantage, 60-51, with 9:31 on the clock.

With a spirited 14-3 run, a determined Crimson team finally pulled ahead, 73-66, with 2:31 left. Columbia would not go away though, and Harvard was tested in the last two minutes in an area which has at times proved problematic this season, free throw shooting. Any past difficulties, however, were not apparent, as the Crimson buried 7-of-8 free throws in the dying stages of the game to close out the victory.

“I like a quote, ‘You don't rise to the level of the occasion, you fall to the level of your habits,’” said Okpara. “We trusted our habits. We trusted our coaching plan. When you face adversity, just continue on.”

After this weekend, the squad will be on the road for the rest of the regular season.
After this weekend, the squad will be on the road for the rest of the regular season. By Courtesy of Harvard Athletic Communications

Okpara finished the night 7-of-8 on free throws and added 19 points, marking the 20th time in 21 games this season that he has scored in double figures. Mack hit 8-of-8 free throws with 21 points, seven assists, and three steals.

Ajogbor also had an incredible night, posting his second-career double with 13 points, 11 rebounds and a career high six blocked shots. The entire Columbia team recorded four blocked shots on the night.

Asked after the game about what made the difference, Okpara emphasized the importance of trust.

“It's just trust,” said Okpara. “Trust in our teammates. Trust in our principles. Trust in our coaches' plan and really trust each other.”

In its final two home games of the season, Harvard will take on Princeton this Friday at 7:00p.m. EST, and then the University of Pennsylvania on Saturday at 7:00p.m. EST. Both games will be broadcast on ESPN+.

—Staff writer Alexander K. Bell can be reached at alexander.bell@thecrimson.com.

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