It was neck-and-neck, but the Quakers fell in the final stretch.
A day after easily dispatching Dartmouth on the road, Penn women’s basketball saw its seven-game winning streak come to an end on Saturday with an 80-72 double-overtime loss at Harvard.
Coming into the game, coach Mike McLaughlin was already wary of the strong shooting of the Crimson (12-9, 5-3 Ivy), who lead the Ivy League with 9.3 threes per game. The Quakers (16-4, 6-1) certainly answered the call on the defensive end early on, forcing three early turnovers from Harvard with a mix of zone defense and full-court pressure.
“I thought we were solid [on defense],” McLaughlin said. “But they made some tough threes. We did a good job with [pressuring full court]. I thought the pace was good, and we stressed them a little bit.”
However, riding the support of the crowd, the Crimson were able to gradually pick up the pace, as well as their three-point shooting and ball movement. They would finish the game with 10 made threes.
The Quakers, on the contrary, were unable to hit a single three pointer in the first half, going 0-for-8 from that range. Ultimately, they finished the game with having made just two threes from 19 attempts. However, McLaughlin was not that concerned about his team’s offense.
“I loved our team’s effort … but I thought [the poor shooting] went both ways,” he said. “Credit to Harvard, they guarded us really well. They were committed, [and] we didn’t get any easy shots. There were a couple of times when we did have open shots, but we didn’t knock them down.”
The Crimson built their lead to 10 in the third quarter, but the Quakers tightened up and used a 14-5 run to cut the deficit down to one entering the fourth period. The run was fueled by the play of sophomore guard Michae Jones, who scored all but one of her career-high 15 points in the second half and overtime.
“I thought Michae Jones really gave us a big spark in the late [fourth quarter]; she was terrific,” McLaughlin said. “We were struggling a bit on the floor, a lot of lanes were getting jammed, and Harvard took away the three-point line from us. We needed someone like Michae that could make a play off the dribble to the basket, and she just really rose to the occasion.”
Penn had a chance to win the game on the final possession, but senior forward Princess Aghayere’s three-pointer was off the mark, giving Harvard the ball with three seconds left. Jones would emerge with a crucial block that sent the game to overtime, yet McLaughlin was not at all surprised with her efforts.
“[It was] a huge step in the right direction for Michae,” he said. “She was really active, and really confident in herself. She positioned herself all year that if she got extended minutes, she [would be] prepared [to contribute]. We would not be in the position to fight [back] if it wasn’t for her.”
The first overtime period was a back-and-forth affair, and Jones would drive hard to the basket and make a layup that tied the game at 62 apiece. With three seconds to go, Penn would again deny Harvard a sniff of the basket, this time courtesy of sophomore center Eleah Parker. But in the second overtime, Harvard took advantage of senior captain Ashley Russell fouling out and scored nine free throws to grind out the victory.
Despite Saturday’s defeat, the Red and Blue remain atop the Ivy League standings with a 6-1 record halfway through the season. With their next five games at the Palestra, McLaughlin is hoping his team can refuel ahead of another series.
“I think the first thing for now is [to] get some rest and be refreshed a little bit,” McLaughlin said. “And we’ll come back out on Tuesday, work on a couple of areas that we can improve on, and just continue to stay on course.”
It was a rare loss for the Red and Blue, and now they have to show the rest of the League that they can bounce back from adversity.