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Men's Basketball Breezes Past Penn, Ends 2016 on Three Game Win Streak

Seniors Agunwa Okolie, Patrick Steeves, and Captain Evan Cummins get a standing ovation as they end their Harvard careers with a victory over Penn.

In the final game of their careers, Harvard’s senior class never left the outcome in doubt. The three seniors scored a combined 29 points, propelling Harvard (14-16, 6-8 Ivy League) to early 17-3 and 40-20 leads en route to an 18-point blowout of the visiting Penn Quakers (11-16, 5-8), 74-56.

It was the 12th time in their four years that Harvard had dispatched an Ivy League opponent by 18 or more points.

“I’m just really proud of our senior class,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “It is an honor to be part of this journey with them and they’ve been amazing representatives of our program and our school… I’m just really honored to have the opportunity to be their coach.”

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A day after notching its best victory of the season, the Crimson came out with energy from the opening tip. After giving up a three-point play to Quaker freshman Max Rothschild at the 17:32 mark, the Crimson held the Quakers without a basket for nearly eight minutes. Harvard blocked three of Penn’s first 17 shots and contested numerous others.

Despite suffocating the Quakers on the defensive end, Harvard initially struggled to get going offensively. Early turnovers kept the game close before the Crimson’s shooters got going. At one point, Harvard—which set a program record with 220 triples on the season—had threes on three consecutive possessions to push the lead from 12 to 21. Freshman Corey Johnson, who didn’t take a single three in Friday’s win over Princeton, made three in the first half alone.

“He has that shooter’s mentality and he knows that we have confidence in him to continue to take his shots,” Amaker said. “I was pleased and impressed with him that he didn’t force shots… I’m never worried that he’s not going to step forward and take the next one because he didn’t get some or he missed some.”

After trailing by 20 at the break, the Quakers came out fighting early in the second. Penn opened the half on a 6-0 run, bracketing a quick early Amaker timeout with consecutive stops and scores.

Harvard responded by leaning, as it had all season, on senior Agunwa Okolie. The wing halted the run with a bank shot in the lane and found junior Corbin Miller on the next possession for a four-point play that pushed the lead back to 18.

Miller’s triple jumpstarted the Crimson on both ends, as Harvard ran off a quick 13-4 run, capped by another Johnson triple, to lengthen the lead to 27. Although Penn eventually cut the lead down to 13 points with 5:21 to go, it would get no closer. Despite taking just four threes in the second half, Harvard made 58 percent of its shots to overcome 11 second-half turnovers, holding Penn to just 41 percent shooting on the defensive end.

“A lot of [defense] is just attention to detail with our plays, defensive rotations, and things like that, just always competing and giving your full-out effort every minute you’re on the floor,” Okolie said. “Don’t take things for granted. Things are not given here.”

The blowout underlined the importance of junior Zena Edosomwan. The team’s leading scorer and rebounder missed Harvard’s last game against Penn, a 67-57 loss that dropped the Crimson to 1-5 in the Ivy League. Without its best post player, the Crimson allowed three Quakers—Rothschild, Matt Howard, and Darien Nelson-Henry—to post double-doubles on that night.

A month later, the trio combined for just 30 points on 40 shots and had just 20 total rebounds. Edosomwan, who finished the year with 14 rebounds in consecutive games, had one of his best all-around outings of the year, chipping in seven assists, 11 points, and three blocks.

Nelson-Henry ended his penultimate collegiate game in just 22 minutes, picking up four of his five fouls defending Edosomwan. The junior became only the fourth person this season to hold the 6’11” big man without a single offensive rebound.

“We want to get the ball to him inside, that’s our game plan,” Okolie said. “He’s done a tremendous job this year. Watching him grow is amazing… He’s been a monster for us.”

—Staff Writer David Freed can be reached at david.freed@thecrimson.com.

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