Eli comeback falls short against Harvard

Trailing by three with just 12 seconds remaining, guard Miye Oni ’20 gathered and elevated from beyond the arc with overtime in sight. But as he released his attempt to tie Friday’s night game against Harvard, defender Justin Bassey tipped his shot, and the Crimson escaped John J. Lee Amphitheater with a victory for the second year in a row.

Led by the dominant interior play of sophomore forward Chris Lewis, who finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds, the Crimson burst out to a controlling lead against Yale before holding on in the final moments to walk away with a 54–52 win. The Bulldogs struggled to score against the vaunted Harvard defense, though the Elis did hold a brief lead late in the fourth quarter. As was the case all evening, the Crimson’s ability to stop the Eli offense ultimately earned them their third conference win of the season.

“They’re very aggressive, they overplay,” head coach James Jones said. “We had some good looks that didn’t go down. That being said, they play hard. That’s their identity, [and] they’ve been that way for some period now. We didn’t do a good job at movement on our offense to be able to create good opportunities.”

In front of a packed crowd, Yale did not get out to a promising start. Nervous fans at John J. Lee Amphitheater grew antsy as the Crimson steamrolled to a 20–5 lead in under eight minutes of action. After the game, Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker pointed to this hot start — along with Lewis’s stellar play — as the most important factor in the contest.

After opening the game with a clean look at a three-pointer from the corner, Yale’s dynamic offense was effectively shut down by a long and active Harvard defense. Coming into the first of two meetings on the season, the Elis hoped to counter the Crimson’s stalwart defense with their fiery offensive attack. But the advantage strongly favored the visitors at the start.

Turnovers plagued the Elis from the outset, and starting point guard Eric Monroe ’20 seemed especially flustered with the Crimson’s defensive pressure. The team quickly burned two timeouts after Harvard jumped out to a 7–0 lead and then showed full-court pressure on the ensuing inbounds.

But Yale slowly crept back into the game using Harvard’s weapon: defense. The Bulldogs posted seven first-half steals and held the Crimson scoreless for the final 4:44 of the opening half. During this stretch, the Bulldogs went on an 8–0 to draw within four at the break after trailing by as many as 15.

The second half proceeded in a similar fashion: Harvard extended its lead to start the action, but with inspired defense, the Bulldogs edged back into the game. An electrifying two-handed slam from guard Trey Phills ’19 cut the Yale deficit to two points, 47–45, after a steal from Oni. Phills then tied the game with free throws with just over six minutes left in the game.

For over three minutes, neither team hit a field goal, and the game took on a slow, grinding character. With 2:11 to play, Phills was charged for his fifth foul on a three-point attempt right as the shot clock wound down, and the three ensuing free throws from Bassey gave the Cambridge team a critical three-point edge.

Bassey then delivered the decisive defensive play, blocking Oni’s game-tying look in the final seconds.

On a quiet night for both teams’ offenses, Alex Copeland ’19 led the Bulldogs with 11 points. Phills turned in 10 points, and Oni notched seven points on 3–13 shooting and 10 rebounds. The Elis collectively shot 30.4 percent from the field.

Yale returns to action tomorrow night at 7 p.m. against Dartmouth. The Big Green lost to Brown Friday night on a last-second buzzer-beater.