In arguably its worst defensive effort of the season, the men’s basketball team fell to Harvard for the second time this season, 85-79, on Friday night. Despite receiving a career-high 24 points from freshman Ryan Wittman, the Red were outscored 48-36 in the second half, as the Crimson shot 53.4 percent for the game, including over 55 percent after intermission.
“For whatever reason, Harvard outplayed us tonight, out-executed us,” said head coach Steve Donahue. “As a coach, I feel ultimately responsible. I am very disappointed in that happening because I felt all year we’ve done a pretty great job of following the gameplan. They made shots but I just think we had a lot to do with it. … There was a ton of open looks.”
After taking a 43-37 lead into the locker room, the Red fell victim to a Harvard run to open the second half, as the Crimson took a one-point lead, 46-45, with just over 16 minutes remaining. Harvard extended its advantage to seven, 61-54, on a three-pointer by sophomore Drew Housman. The Crimson outscored the Red, 24-11, through the first nine minutes of the second half.
In danger of losing control of the game, however, the Red mounted a charge of is own, retaking the lead, 66-64, on a layup by Andrew Naeve with 7:48 to go. The senior center turned in yet another solid performance, finishing the night with 15 points and 8 rebounds.
After trading baskets for several minutes, the game was eventually tied at 77 with just 1:12 remaining. While the Red defense focused on stopping Harvard’s vaunted backcourt duo of Housman and senior Jim Goffredo, center Brad Unger stepped out on a high screen and roll with 1:02 remaining, draining a three-pointer to put Harvard ahead for good. Following a turnover by Wittman, Unger sunk a pair of free throws with 32 seconds to go, all but ending a potential Cornell comeback.
“We experienced tonight what a lot of teams have experienced against us, confidence that comes about when you make shots, especially when you make 3s,” said Harvard head coach Frank Sullivan. “Usually, we’re on the flip side of that — teams get invigorated by making 3s against us. It was good to see our guys, especially in the final weekend, make some shots.”
Harvard was paced by Goffredo, who proved to be virtually unstoppable throughout the game. Behind 9-of-15 shooting, including an astounding 7-of-10 from behind the arc, Goffredo put up 32 points while draining key buckets down the stretch to put the Red away.
“I was a little upset in myself in the past couple weeks in not being as aggressive and just waiting around looking for shots instead of trying to make some of my own,” Goffredo said. “I came out with that mindset tonight and I had it going early and was able to keep it going.”
Wittman led Cornell with 24 points on 8-of-12 shooting, including 6-of-9 from three-point range. All in all, Cornell shot 45.5 percent from the floor, as freshmen Louis Dale and Geoff Reeves combined for 31 points.
“I thought Ryan was terrific on the offensive end. We needed him to score points, and his teammates realized it, and he just has great poise and a great understanding of how to get it,” Donahue said. “You could see it in his eye that he was going to have a good night tonight and he went out and made plays for us.”
The loss dropped the Red to 15-12, including an 8-5 record within the Ivy League. Harvard accounted for two of those defeats, as Cornell fell for only the second time at home all season.
“We’ve had a young group of guys most of the year. They don’t know the lingo of the Ivy League, like sweeps and splits. That was my biggest thing at halftime. I never heard anyone mention the word sweep all week long in getting ready for Cornell,” Sullivan said. “That’s what we were talking about at halftime. That’s what we’re here for. We’re here to win, but we we’re here to accomplish something even better, and that’s getting a sweep. That being said, sweeping a team like Cornell, especially with the second half being on the road, is just real important for the confidence of these guys.”