It’s a Saturday night in Ithaca, N.Y., and the Crimson had just let a comfortable 20-point lead splice in half with about six minutes to play. Cornell showed no signs of letting up, persisting with a formidable full-court press.
Frustrated by a slew of turnovers in the prior few minutes, coach Tommy Amaker elected to play five men that few back in October would have expected to be closing out a conference game: Idan Tretout, Rio Haskett, Chris Ledlum, Danilo Djuricic, and Mason Forbes.
The three-game Thanksgiving tournament in Orlando ended with a thud on Sunday night, as the Crimson languished to a 77-62 blowout loss to USC. Harvard scored just 19 points in a second half that was excruciatingly difficult to watch, outside of a few energetic concluding minutes from bench players hungry to send a message including Mason Forbes and Luka Sakota.
The Crimson fought back from what Coach Amaker characterized postgame as a “horrendous start” to momentarily take a 39-38 lead, but it upped its opponents for only the following 31 seconds before the Trojans broke away. Led by standout rookie Onyeka Okongwu’s dominant 27 points on the interior and four triples from familiar nemesis Quinton Adlesh (who nearly spoiled Harvard’s Ivy championship last season in his last shot as a Columbia senior), the Trojans were simply a team with more weapons and athleticism on both ends of the court.
Across sports, there is a commonly-understood term known as the “must-win.” A Game Three for a team down 0-2 in a best-of-five series. A Week 15 game for a team on the bubble of playoff elimination.
Rarely however is the term “must-win” applied in context to an entire season. But here we are in October, before a single minute has been logged in the 2019-20 Harvard men’s basketball season, and the narrative that will loom over this team is unquestionably clear: the team is too talented, too experienced, too well-coached to achieve anything less than an Ivy League championship, an NCAA berth, and success deep into March.
So now what?
Harvard men’s basketball had to walk in the midst of another program’s confetti for the second-straight season, still chasing the now-elusive Ivy tournament trophy. At the doorstep of the Big Dance, it is back to the drawing boards once again.
Ivy League basketball may not have reached prominence worthy of national attention, but it is sure knocking on the door.
Here is a quick snapshot through the numbers(as of Feb. 21), some of which have broken new records for the league: