NEW HAVEN, CONN. — They gave it their best, but at the end of the day it wasn’t enough.
In a hotly contested matchup that came down to the final minute, Penn men’s basketball fell to Harvard, 66-58, in the semifinal of the Ivy League Tournament. The loss marks the end of the Quakers’ season after the team decided to not participate in any of the lesser postseason tournaments.
While the Quakers led for the majority of the game, cold shooting and a slew of turnovers in the final minutes of the game allowed Harvard to pull away for good. The Red and Blue shot just 36 percent from the field in the second half, including 1-for-6 from three, and committed five turnovers in the final 10 minutes of the game.
“I just thought it was an incredibly hard-fought game,” coach Steve Donahue said. “It’s what this league has been all year.”
Buoyed by several early runs and stingy defense, the Quakers led for much of the first half. The Red and Blue scored the game’s first seven points, and even opened up a double-digit lead after consecutive baskets from junior forward AJ Brodeur and a three from junior guard Devon Goodman.
But Harvard clawed back each time the Quakers went on a run and were able to tie the game up and eventually overtake the Quakers toward the end of the half. A good chunk of the Crimson’s scoring came from the free throw line; Harvard made nine of their 11 attempts in the first half, while Penn missed their lone attempt in the half. All told, Harvard entered the locker room up 36-34.
“It really comes down to how you respond to those big runs," Brodeur said. "Are you going to sit back and take it and wait it out or are you going do something to try to disrupt their flow, … make them uncomfortable, try to make the momentum swing in your favor.”
The second half started off much slower, with both teams turning the ball over and missing shots around the rim. Penn took advantage of the sloppy play, pouring in six of their first 12 points off of turnovers. The Quakers’ quicker start to the half, particularly by Brodeur and Goodman, helped them build a 48-43 lead with just over 10 minutes to play.
But just like in the first half, Harvard hunkered down and pulled out an 8-0 run, punctuated by a wide-open three by freshman Noah Kirkwood after several extra passes, to retake the lead. And even though the Quakers were able to pull even on the following possession with a three from senior guard Antonio Woods, momentum had shifted for good towards Harvard.
“I think that was just the natural flow of the game,” Brodeur said about the back-and-forth runs. “They had their chances and we had ours. They were able to capitalize a little bit more down the stretch. It’s a game of runs, it always is, especially with teams with so much talent.”
Fouls certainly didn’t help with that momentum. Goodman picked up his fourth foul with seven minutes left to play, while senior forward Max Rothschild played with four from the 8:37 mark until he fouled out with 37 seconds left. And the free throws that came with fouls made a huge difference – Harvard made eight more free throws on eight more attempts than the Quakers.
“When Devon gets a fourth foul, I thought that was critical,” Donahue said. “He’s such a big part of what we do defensively, and I thought [junior guard Bryce] Aiken hits his one easier shot that he had all day. … That play there was kind of a backbreaker; I wish I didn’t make the call, now in retrospect.”
Harvard opened a four-point lead with seven minutes left to play on consecutive buckets by juniors Bryce Aiken and Justin Bassey, a lead that they would not relinquish for the rest of the game. Aiken finished the game with a team-high 19 points, including 10 of the Crimson’s last 16 points. Towards the end he seemed to score at will from anywhere on the floor, making both acrobatic layups and contested threes. Perhaps the biggest one came with about six minutes left, where Aiken knocked down an NBA-range three pointer over the outstretched arm of Woods to give Harvard a six-point lead.
Harvard moved on to the final on Sunday, where it lost to Yale in search of a spot in the NCAA Tournament. As for Penn, the loss bookends an up-and-down year that saw the Quakers take home a Big 5 championship but struggle throughout much of the conference schedule.