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On Harvard’s senior night, it was Brown’s senior sharpshooter Zach Hunsaker who stole the show at Lavietes Pavilion Friday, scoring 20 points and hitting a dagger three pointer with four minutes left to extend the lead to 11 and shock the Crimson 64-55, snapping a six game winning streak and keeping the Bears in the hunt for their first ever Ivy League tournament berth.
Hunsaker keyed Brown’s offensive performance, hitting four triples in the first half for a team that had connected on just 26.5 percent of its long range efforts in Ancient Eight play before Friday. The Bears (14-12, 7-6 Ivy League) led by three points at halftime in large part thanks to their scalding 6-of-10 performance from deep.
“Hunsaker was the difference,” head coach Tommy Amaker said. “On the big [three] late, we went under the screen and he nailed a big one when we were trying to get a stop there. So I just thought he was the difference and they deserved to win tonight.”
While Harvard (20-8, 9-4) survived Brown’s first half three point shooting barrage, it could not withstand a 7:20 scoreless drought early in the second half, a stretch in which the Crimson missed 10 consecutive shots and the Bears extended what had been just a two point lead early in the second half to 13. Harvard managed just 25 points overall in the second half and 14 in the half’s first 16 minutes as it suffered its first home loss this season.
The Crimson cut into the lead a little bit late, and a basket by Tretout would have made it a five point affair with 30 seconds left, but the freshman guard could not convert the open layup, which was indicative of Harvard’s lackluster offensive performance.
Sophomore guard Noah Kirkwood paced the team with 14 points, while Lewis and Tretout chipped in 13 and a career-high 11 apiece. But aside from Lewis, who had success on the rare occasions that he was single-teamed down low, hammering home three one-handed dunks, the offense was exceedingly inefficient. The rest of the team shot just 25 percent from the field and was often sloppy with the ball, making a number of ill-advised entry passes to Lewis and racking up 15 turnovers against eight assists.
Hunsaker was joined in double figures by shifty senior point guard Brandon Anderson, who scored 14 points but forced a number of difficult shots in the second half and was held to 4-of-17 shooting, and junior forward Tamenang Choh, the hero of the first meeting between these teams.
The Crimson was playing its second full game without senior point guard Christian Juzang, who injured his ankle last weekend and has been ruled out for Saturday’s game against Yale. Juzang has a good chance to return for next weekend’s tournament, something that cannot be said about fellow injured senior guards Seth Towns and Bryce Aiken.
“It has kind of been a point guard by collective this season,” senior guard Justin Bassey said. “All of us have taken time there, rotating through it, seeing if we can find kind of a rhythm. That’s been a big thing that we’ve talked about.”
The loss put a bit of a damper on the senior nights of Harvard’s seven seniors, who formed the heralded Class of 2016 recruiting class and who before this year had won consecutive Ivy League regular season championships.
“Definitely emotional,” Bassey said of senior night. “It’s crazy how fast this came up. I’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude, who we owe for things that have happened. It’s amazing to have family here supporting, friends. Definitely a tough loss for us but we have to turn the page and try to channel those into the right way to play.”
The Crimson’s senior class will have one last chance to secure an elusive spot in the Big Dance. Harvard’s loss combined with Yale’s win at Dartmouth clinches the regular season title for the Bulldogs and locks the Crimson into the second or third seed, ensuring that Harvard will face Princeton next Saturday in the tournament’s semifinals.
Brown, which won a nailbiter in Providence in the first matchup between the teams, notched its first season sweep of the Crimson since 2008. But for the Bears to sneak into the Ivy League tournament as the fourth seed, they will need to beat Dartmouth tomorrow night in Hanover while Columbia, losers of 12 straight league games, sees off Penn in Philadelphia.
While Harvard’s game against Yale Saturday night will be meaningless as far as tournament matchups go, Amaker stressed the importance of coming out strong in the team’s final regular season game.
“We need to find a way to win, play well and try to win,” Amaker said. “We were coming off of winning six in a row coming into this game and we’re playing Yale and it’s the final regular season home game of the year for us so there’s a ton for us to try to accomplish in this game tomorrow. They’re the best team in our league and that can give us a tremendous amount of confidence going into the conference tournament if we can find a way to find a good rhythm.”
— Staff writer Lev Cohen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @LevTHC.
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