CAMBRIDGE, MA—In their most hair-raising contest of the conference season so far, the Harvard Crimson narrowly defeated the Columbia Lions Saturday, 57-52, to improve to 6-0 and stay in sole possession of first place in the Ivy League. A clash of the Ivy League’s top scoring defense might have augured for a bore—and yet the game on Saturday night at Lavietes Pavilion was anything but. Although the Crimson never trailed—Harvard struck first on a Brandyn Curry trey at the 19:26 mark in the 1st half—they never truly pulled away either, only once extending the lead to even as many as 8 points.
As the clock started to wind down in the second half, Harvard found itself in its closest late-game contest since their loss to Fordham a month and a day ago. With under 3 minutes to go, a jumper from Alex Rosenberg turned into a three point play on a foul by Harvard junior forward Kyle Casey. Senior Co-captain Keith Wrihgt, however, was quick to respond with a layup of his own that extended the Crimson lead back to two possessions. From then on, the Crimson were able tho hold to a tenuous two-possession lead, finally finishing with a 5-point advantage.
“They’re really good on the clock, and we’ve been working on that, so we tried to go with the same game plan, and it was pretty effective,” said Columbia head coach Kyle Smith of his team’s performance. Columbia limited the Crimson to only 43% shooting, several ticks below Harvard’s season average.
If “bench and balance” have been Harvard’s moniker for most of the year, Saturday night was—to borrow from The Wizard of Oz—a horse of a different color. 47 of Harvard’s 57 points (that’s 82%) came from just three players: Laurent Rivard (20), Keith Wright (15) and Brandyn Curry (12), who went 15-31 shooting and 13-20 from the free throw line. By comparison, the rest of the team was a combined 1 for 6 from the floor.
“Keith’s play in particular tonight was terrific, and I thought that was one of the bigger differences for us,” said Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker in the postgame press conference. Wright, who was 6-10 from the floor and 3 of 4 from the free throw line, totaled 15 points while grabbing 6 boards, the latter a team high. Even more, “[Keith] had maybe the biggest basket of the game for us,” said Amaker, referring to the layup that extended the lead back to four, 50-46, with 2:19 on the clock.
Free throw shooting was a problem for Harvard throughout the game. Despite making it to the line 32 times, the Crimson only converted on 21 of their opportunities. It wasn’t until the 4:02 mark in the second half, when Keith Wright made both heaves, that a Harvard player managed to make 100% of his given shots (Laurent Rivard twice made two—but he was shooting three).
Harvard returns to the road next week as they travel south to face the University of Pennsylvania Quakers and the Princeton Tigers. Friday’s game will be live streaming audio on Gocrimson.com, while Saturday’s will be heard on 95.3 FM WHRB in the Greater Boston area, and streaming live worldwide at www.whrb.org