This post has been updated.
PHILADELPHIA — It was close in the two prior meetings, but top-seeded Harvard finally flexed its muscles on Saturday afternoon to top Cornell men’s basketball, 74-55, in its conference tournament semifinal matchup.
Despite an efficient first period from Crimson, Harvard’s late half push, including a half-court buzzer-beater by the Crimson’s Christian Juzang, left the Red heading into the locker trailing by 37-32.
— Jonathan Tannenwald (@jtannenwald) March 10, 2018
From the second half-on out, Cornell was unable to take care of the ball or string together enough baskets together to keep pace with the powerful Crimson attack. The final 19-point decision gave the Red its sixth-straight loss against Harvard.
“We’re disappointed with the way it ended,” said head coach Brian Earl. “We’ve been fighting all season [and] that’s a tough way to go out. We had it going for a little while there in the first half, but it got away from us and we just couldn’t sustain it.”
For Cornell, a balanced first half offense quickly dissipated in the second half, as shooting dipped from 48 percent to 38 percent through the two periods. Junior guard Matt Morgan was the only Red player to break double-figures and finished with 19 points, three assists and three rebounds.
“They made some adjustments and we got stagnant at times,” Morgan said. “We just didn’t make enough shots to loosen up their defense [and] move the ball as much as possible, but they did a good job adjusting to what we were doing.”
“In those [previous two] games, we had it going, but also took what was given to us,” Gettings said. “If they’re backing off of us and they’re giving us shots then we’re going to take them. I thought early on it was pretty evenly distributed in terms of scoring because [Harvard was] doing a good job of denying [Morgan and I] the ball.”
Harvard big man Seth Towns, recently named the Ivy League’s Player of the Year, led the opposition with a game-high 24 points and 12 rebounds.
“[Towns] presents a lot of problems with his height,” Earl said. “He’s versatile and our defense is a little bit of scramble [so] when they move the ball to him … we occasionally have a matchup that’s not great.”
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Chris Lewis added another double-double for the Crimson with 16 points and 10 boards, and Juzhang added 12 points on four treys to seal the win.
Despite running some effective zone defenses early in the first period, the Red ultimately fell victim to some hot Harvard shooting on the defensive end. After a questionable play to end the first half, in which Lewis knocked over junior Jack Gordon before Juzhang drained a half-court shot, the Crimson shot 50 percent from downtown in the second period. Cornell was also outrebounded, 37-24.
I don’t know if it stuck with us [in the locker room], but it was tough to see,” Earl said of the half-court shot. “The refs had a tough job … [Lewis] was backing up and hit [Gordon] and I guess it wasn’t a foul. It’s unfortunate and we would’ve preferred it didn’t happen, but it is what it is.”
The conference semi-finals appearance caps off a relatively successful second season under Earl’s tenure. The Red ends the season with an overall 12-16 record, outperforming pre-season expectations which pinned the team at a sixth place finish in the conference. Heading into the offseason, the squad will look to make the another leap into the conference elite, as its key players are all set to return for the upcoming season.
“I don’t like that we lost by 20, but we were able to hang with them,” Earl said. “We’re a work in progress [and while] we should celebrate the year we had … we realize we [qualified for the tournament] by such a slim margin and by no means will it be us again next year. [The team] will be really motivated because they really want to make the tournament next year.”