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Men’s Basketball Comes Back Against Columbia, 62-59, Overpowered by Cornell, 89-76

The Harvard men's basketball team posted mixed results this weekend against Columbia and Cornell.
The Harvard men's basketball team posted mixed results this weekend against Columbia and Cornell. By Courtesy of Harvard Athletics
By Alexander K. Bell, Crimson Staff Writer

In the first weekend of back-to-back Ivy League games for the Crimson, Harvard came from behind against Columbia (11-8, 2-4 Ivy) to overturn a 20 point deficit and secure an emphatic win against the visiting Lions. Led by four double-digit scorers and a game high 20 points from first-year guard Malik Mack, Harvard secured its second win in Ivy League play against a key rival, 62-59.

Returning to Lavities for the second night in a row, the Crimson squared up with league leaders Cornell (17-3, 6-0 Ivy). Despite keeping the score leveled to just three points at halftime, Harvard was ultimately unable to keep up with the Big Red in the second half, who pulled away with its unique fast-paced style of play to return to Ithaca with a 89-76 win.

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

Both teams entered the game looking to avoid a 1-4 start to the season and hoping to gain an edge in the five-way tie for the fourth and final Ivy League tournament spot. That urgency was on full display for the fans at Lavietes as the Lions roared out to a 33-13 lead within eleven minutes of play in the first half.

“They had about 30 points in the first ten minutes. As a team, we said that’s just unacceptable, so we dug in defensively and found our way back into the game,” reflected Mack.

As the first half wore on, the Crimson found its footing and began to chip away at the deficit. Cheered on by its fans, Harvard went on an 11-0 run with five minutes left in the half to make it a nine point game, 33-24. The Lions briefly regained a 15 point lead before the Crimson were able to score seven unanswered points to close the half, making it an eight point game at the break, 41-33.

“The fastest runner is not the one that always wins the race. Most of the time it's the runner that just keeps running,” Head Coach Tommy Amaker said after the game. “I thought we just kept running tonight.”

Harvard started the second half strong, closing the deficit to two points four minutes into play with a three-pointer from Mack. All of the Crimson’s work stringing together possessions and playing strong defense, however, was undone five minutes later as Columbia made it an eight point game once again with 10 minutes to play.

The Crimson would not be deterred and continued to fight, diving for every loose ball and locking up on defense. At one point, junior guard Tyler Simon hurdled the courtside seats and went flying into the second row of bleachers in an attempt to retain possession for the Crimson.

After trailing Columbia for nearly the entire game, the tides finally turned for Harvard with 3:50 left on the clock as the Crimson forced a shot-clock violation and got the ball into the hands of first-year guard Malik Mack on the left flank. Mack teased his defender with a jab step before draining his second three-pointer of the game, this time putting Harvard into a 57-56 lead.

The Crimson fans hardly had time to sit back down from their celebrations before junior guard Louis Lesmond’s persistent defense poked the ball away for sophomore forward Chisom Okpara to scoop up. Okpara sprinted the length of the floor before getting up and slamming home a dunk to give Harvard a three-point cushion, sending the decibels inside Lavietes through the roof.

The team is now tied for fourth in the Ivy League.
The team is now tied for fourth in the Ivy League. By Courtesy of Harvard Athletics

Mack, who has been recovering from mononucleosis, spoke about his recovery after putting up a game high 18 points, six assists, and three steals against the Lions.

“Today I felt good. I felt like I was returning back to my normal self, just having my legs up under me,” said Mack. “I feel like I’m close to being back to who I was earlier in the season.”

Harvard maintained the edge throughout the rest of the game, securing the 62-59 win despite the scare of giving Columbia a chance to tie it from the free throw line after fouling on a three-point shot.

Four players scored in double-digits for the Crimson with Okpara, sophomore guard Chandler Piggé, and junior guard Louis Lesmond joining Mack with 13, 10, and 11 points respectively.

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

The Cornell Big Red came into Saturday night’s matchup with the Crimson on a six-game win streak ,and as joint leaders of the Ivy League, matching Yale as the only teams still with a perfect 5-0 record.

Harvard, coming off its win against Columbia the night before, was determined not to fall into an early deficit once again and came out fighting, securing an 11-7 lead four minutes in. In a close first-half, the teams exchanged points, heading into halftime with Cornell leading 38-35.

Cornell played its signature high-pressing game for almost the entire game, double teaming players in Harvard’s backcourt in an attempt to force turnovers. Harvard, missing ball-handler and junior guard Denham Wojcik, who is out indefinitely due to a hip injury, relied upon Mack to pass out of pressure and get the ball up the court. The Big Red was successful in forcing 17 turnovers from the Crimson, who largely was unable to capitalize upon playing out of that press.

“It can be a fun game to play, but you have to make the plays on the back end,” said Amaker. “We talked about going into the game, that we had to have great discipline on defense and have good decisions on offense and our decision making really let us down.”

Despite shooting an impressive 60 percent (15-of-25) from the field in the second half, Harvard was simply unable to keep up with Cornell, who roared out to a 10 point lead (45-35) within a minute and a half of play resuming. The Big Red led by as much as 17 and never by less than seven enroute to securing the 89-76 victory.

The squad will look to capitalize on momentum from its win against Columbia in its matchup against Dartmouth on Friday.
The squad will look to capitalize on momentum from its win against Columbia in its matchup against Dartmouth on Friday. By Dylan J. Goodman

Amaker also spoke about the importance of missed freethrows and poor three point shooting. The Crimson shot a dismal 55 percent (11-of-20) from the freethrow line in comparison to Cornell’s 88.9 percent (16-of-18).

Harvard shot 26.3 percent (5-of-19) from three point range, marginally worse than the 30 percent (6-of-20) it put up against Columbia the night prior. The Big Red sank 11 three pointers on 39.3 percent shooting, compounding the Crimson’s offensive challenges.

“They are really good. On the second night for us, you have to play a lot better and sharper, making threes and taking care of the ball,” said Amaker. “For our team, in the way that we are constructed right now, with a game like that and the players that they have – they are deep and play a style that is difficult to play against.”

The Crimson now sit in a three way tie for fourth in the Ivy League with Columbia and Brown (6-15, 2-4 Ivy). Next up, Harvard will take on Dartmouth (5-14, 1-5 Ivy) Saturday afternoon at 2:00 p.m. EST in the final game of its four-game homestand. The Crimson will then travel to Cornell and Columbia the following weekend in another back-to-back Friday-Saturday series.

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

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