William McCormack

BOSTON – A night after clinching an outright conference championship at Dartmouth, Yale arrived at Lavietes Pavilion with nothing to lose on Saturday. Its No. 1 seed in Ivy Madness had been assured, and the league’s silver trophy sat on its chartered bus, awaiting the ride back to New Haven.

As captain and guard Eric Monroe ’20 said after scoring a career-high 15 points in Hanover Friday night, there was nothing too complicated about Saturday’s game. This group of Elis — none of whom have attained a regular-season win against Harvard despite going 39–17 in the Ancient Eight over the past four seasons — still wanted a victory over their archrival. Through 13 games, Yale had proved itself the league’s best team. A conclusive win on the road would offer definitive proof, solidifying that status.

Instead, Harvard (21–8, 10–4 Ivy) played like it had something to prove, defeating Yale (23–7, 11–3) 83–69 after dropping its first home game of the year Friday against Brown. A full house of 1636 at Lavietes Pavilion enjoyed watching the Crimson shoot 16-of-23 in the second half, as Harvard overcame 15 points in the frame from forward Paul Atkinson ’21 to pull away.

“I just don’t think we had our regular focus,” head coach James Jones said. “We didn’t play our brand of basketball, we weren’t focused enough, we were not tough enough, and that hurt us. Our toughness level was not as good as it needed to be to win this game.”

 

Atkinson finished with a game-high 23 points, while Harvard seniors and guards Justin Bassey and Rio Haskett led the Crimson with 19 and 14.

The Crimson scored 18 points off turnovers, of which Yale suffered nine in the first period. Only five afflicted the Elis in the second half, when the Crimson’s nearly 70 percent clip from the field and four-of-eight mark from deep made up the difference.

“[Turnovers were] definitely a big part of it,” Monroe said. “We didn’t really defend. They had 83 points. We just weren’t tough enough. We weren’t ready enough from the start of the game. I’d say turnovers were a big part of it, but mainly we weren’t tough. We weren’t ready.”

As the Bulldogs understood after tracking the final moments of Harvard’s loss to Brown following their win at Dartmouth, winning or losing on Saturday would not affect the Elis’ postseason status. Penn’s comfortable win over Columbia in Philadelphia means top-seeded Yale will take on the Quakers in the first Ivy Madness semifinal.

Yale’s regular-season skid against the Crimson stretched to eight straight losses Saturday. Even though the Elis were hungry for a way to end it, creating stakes for a game that simply lacked any real consequences is difficult. Jones said he did not sense a lack of focus during warmups or pregame. 

“That’s certainly part of it,” the 21st-year head coach said. “I think it’s hard for a player to get up, but that’s your job. Your job is to get up and to play no matter what the circumstance is, and we try to treat this like every other game that we’ve played this year, and we just did not get to it. We did not get the razor sharp focus we needed to be successful.”

 

Bassey sunk a three-pointer five seconds into the first half, and Haskett added one of his own less than two minutes later. Atkinson secured Yale’s a little more than five minutes into the game with an and-one at the rim, nailing the free throw to make it 12–10 Bulldogs. 

Harvard defenders pressured the ball intensely, and the Crimson recorded six blocks in the first half, with four coming from senior forward Robert Baker. Still, the Bulldogs led for more than six minutes in the first before two whistles to which Jones and the Yale staff objected sent Harvard to the line on two straight possessions. Haskett first converted an and-one layup on the fast break, drawing a block on Monroe that caused Jones to rise from his seat and lift his right arm to suggest an offensive foul.

“We didn’t play hard enough against their defense,” Jones said. “They were very aggressive. There was a lot of physicality that went on there that wasn’t called, and we didn’t fight through it.”

After officials whistled guard August Mahoney ’23 for an offensive foul earlier in the period, the first year then picked up his second foul of the half defending an attempt from Baker. The senior hit two shots at the charity stripe to make it 27–22 with a little more than five minutes to play, and Mahoney sat for the rest of the period.

 

Bassey’s jumper, which was initially ruled a three-pointer, in the final seconds of the frame put Harvard up 36–32 at the break. The senior’s career will continue for at least one more game on the same court next weekend, but Jones took the chance to acknowledge Bassey with some comments in the postgame line.

“[He] just congratulated me on a career,” Bassey said. “Obviously we have the tournament coming up, [but he] told me congratulations playing over the last four years, said he loved my game, was excited to get a chance to hopefully play us back here.”

Less than two minutes into the second, a steal at the top of the key by senior forward Chris Lewis spawned a fastbreak dunk on the other end and stretched the Crimson lead to nine, 41–32. It hovered around 10 until Harvard launched an 8–0 run midway through the half. first-year forward Chris Ledlum capped it with a 360-dunk that brought his side’s advantage to 60–43 with a little over nine minutes to play.

 

Atkinson contributed for the Bulldogs in the second, converting five of his six field goal attempts and five of seven attempts from the free throw line. Guard Azar Swain ’21, who finished with 13, added a pair of three-pointers, but no other Bulldog managed to score more than one field goal in the period.

The Crimson lead remained at least a dozen until the final whistle cemented a 14-point loss for the Elis, their first double-digit defeat of the season.

But despite disappointment in Boston, the road ahead is clear. A week of practice back in friendly confines John J. Lee Amphitheater precedes Ivy Madness next weekend.

“We just gotta focus on practice on Monday,” Monroe said. “We definitely gotta get better before the start of the tournament, and we can’t be thinking about the weekend.”

No. 1 Yale plays No. 4 Penn next Saturday at 11 a.m.

William McCormack | william.mccormack@yale.edu