Minutes before game time at Howard University on Monday afternoon, Harvard Basketball tweeted out the day’s second most important announcement from the D.C. campus – for the first time in 348 days, junior guard Bryce Aiken would be on the court for the Crimson.
In front of a packed Burr Gymnasium, including California Senator/Presidential candidate Kamala Harris rooting for her Bisons and Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan (Harvard Law ’86; Dean ’03-’08) sitting behind the Harvard bench, the former first team All-Ivy star led the Crimson (7-7; 0-1 Ivy) to a 84-71 victory against Howard (8-12; 2-3 MEAC) on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Playing for the first time since injuring his left knee near the end of the February 2nd 2018 game at Columbia and starting for the first time since the Dec. 6, 2017 contest at Fordham, Aiken got right back in the groove with a three from the top of the left arc on the game’s first possession. In 29 minutes of action (20 in the second half), he totaled 16 points on 4 for 10 shooting, including a 3 for 7 performance from downtown. In addition, he had a rebound, a steal and a team-high 5 assists, with the highlight being a give-and-go alley-oop pass to Robert Baker at the start of the second half.
Aiken was one of five starters in double-figures for Harvard with 18 coming from Justin Bassey, 16 from Chris Lewis and 11 each from Christian Juzang and Baker. The team shot 47 percent overall and 43 percent (12-28) from beyond the arc, while assisting on 80 percent (20-25) of their made baskets. While their shooting has been in the top 40 nationally, their 62.9 percent free throw performance has been among the worst in the land. On Monday, with Aiken adding 5 of 6 from the charity stripe, the team shot a season high 22 of 24 for 91.7 percent.
Aiken’s arrival comes at a crucial time for the Crimson. After a 81-63 loss at Dartmouth on January 12th, Harvard needs to avoid a season sweep to the improving Big Green (10-7; 1-0 Ivy; #189 KenPom) before welcoming league-leading Yale (11-3; 1-0 Ivy; #89 KenPom) and surging Brown (12-5; 0-1 Ivy) to Lavietes Pavilion . With 2017-2018 Ivy Player of the Year Seth Towns still on the disabled list, Harvard needs Aiken’s experience and all-around game as they enter the heart of the conference schedule. “[Bryce] Aiken gave them a different look”, noted Howard coach Kevin Nickleberry. “What he brings in terms of not just on-the-court stats and the ability to score, but also just energy, enthusiasm, and the way he carries himself,” Bassey told The Harvard Crimson. “That does a lot more beyond pointing what’s up for us. Having Bryce back is a huge game changer for us.”
In other Crimson hoops news, Harvard Athletic Director Bob Scalise announced the endowment of the women’s basketball head coaching position by The Friends of Harvard Women’s Basketball. The endowment was made in honor of coach Kathy Delaney-Smith, who is presently in her 37th year in charge at Cambridge. She is the all-time conference leader, for both the women’s and men’s divisions, in overall (592) and Ivy victories (346). Her Harvard resume includes 11 Ivy League championships, 12 20-win seasons, a .500 record or better in 29 of the last 30 campaigns, 14 postseason appearances and 14 straight top-three finishes.
“When I started coaching 37 years ago, I could never have imagined the honor of having an endowment bestowed upon me by our alumnae and friends of the program,” Delaney-Smith told Harvard Athletics. “This endowment will be instrumental to the future success of our program and to all those who will wear the Crimson for years to come.” This marks the fifth Ivy women’s program with an endowed coach, joining Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth and Yale. Upon Coach Delaney-Smith’s retirement, the head coaching position will be renamed in her honor.