PHILADELPHIA—A packed home crowd of 6,586. Twenty lead changes. A one-possession final score margin that was reflective of much of the contest. The victors? Penn, 74-71.
The Harvard men’s basketball team was unable to climb back from a late-game hole and relinquished its first place share of the Ivy League on Saturday night at the Palestra.
Up by one point with less than seven minutes to play, the Crimson (15-12, 10-2 Ivy) could not withstand a surge of momentum from the Quakers (21-7,11-1) and found itself down seven with 2:13 to play. Sophomore forward AJ Brodeur finished a second straight hook shot over Harvard sophomore Chris Lewis to bring the game to 67-60.
Despite a barrage of converted triples in the final two minutes—including two back-to-back shots from deep from sophomore forward Seth Towns—Harvard was left with just two seconds for a miracle heave down by three. Towns overshot the half-court attempt as it ricocheted off of the top of the backboard.
“Penn is a tremendous basketball team with weapons, shooters, very hard to defend,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “I think they were very deserving of the victory tonight and I thought their ability to score off our turnovers was probably the biggest key.”
Playing inside-out through Lewis much of the first frame, the Crimson reverted to increased perimeter play coming out of intermission. While Lewis attempted just two field goals in the second half—compared to seven shots in the prior frame—Towns stepped up in his place to carry the team late in the contest.
The Columbus, Ohio native opened the final 20 minutes of play with an isolation jumper from the right side and converted five more field goals in the frame. Towns finished the night as Amaker’s top scorer with 22 points on a 7-for-10 shooting performance.
On Penn’s senior night, it was fitting that the Quakers’ most critical shot of the game that would end up in the hands of fourth-year guard Caleb Wood. With 30 seconds remaining in the game and Penn clinging to a two-point margin, fellow senior guard Darnell Foreman bodied himself into the paint before locating Wood near the right baseline. In front of the Quakers’ bench, Wood swished the three, all but sealing the game for Penn coach Steve Donahue’s men.
“[Wood] proved he was mentally and physically tough enough to help us win games,” Donahue said. “ I think he is one of the more talented players in this league. I don’t think he gets that recognition because of what we built around him.”
After scoring just three points on Friday night at Princeton, junior wing Corey Johnson drilled four triples and saw his minutes jump from 15 to 31. Previously in a multi-game shooting slump, Johnson and his confidence from deep were positives in the defeat. As a unit, Harvard was 10-of-21 from three-point range and shot 47.2 percent from the field. In both contests against Penn, the Crimson has been able to tally at least 70 points on the score sheet.
As previously mentioned by Amaker, the one issue that Harvard faced particularly late in the game was simply maintaining possession of the basketball. After silencing a raucous crowd with an isolation jumper at the 4:47 point of the second half, Towns once again controlled the ball with his team trailing by three. Much like the final possession in regulation against Princeton Friday night, Towns lost control of the ball, resulting in a Brodeur hook shot at the other end.
Extending the lead to 67-62 entering the final minute of action, the Quakers snatched another missed pass from sophomore forward Justin Bassey, his second giveaway of the game. The Crimson subsequently fouled Foreman to force a one-and-one, and this time was not penalized for its sloppy play as Foreman’s first free throw rimmed out. Nevertheless, Penn capitalized on 22 points off of Harvard’s 14 turnovers during the game, a mark that exceeds the Crimson’s season turnover average of 13.1 giveaways per contest.
“I thought we made some silly ones and obviously their defense is really solid,” Amaker said. “We weren’t as sharp with the ball as we needed to be but you have to give them credit for putting us in positions to cough it up.”
Harvard has now lost its fourth consecutive game at the Palestra dating back to the 2015-2016 season. In speaking to the deafening roars of the Philadelphia crowd, Amaker expressed no qualms about the Ivy League Tournament being played at the historic venue in two weeks.
“It’s an honor to have a chance to compete here,” Amaker said. “I’ve always been in favor of our tournament being right here. I do feel like it’s that kind of environment.”
The Crimson’s second conference loss leaves it comfortably pinned at the No. 2 seed heading into the final weekend of the regular season. To invoke tiebreaker rules, Harvard will need at least one Penn loss in its matchups with Yale and Brown next weekend to earn a shot at finishing the regular season as conference champions.
—Staff writer Henry Zhu can be reached at email@example.com.
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