One week later, and not much has changed.
Harvard once again came close to blowing a double-digit lead in the final minutes but again managed to hold on for just long enough to come away from Hanover its eighth straight win, 70-66, and a sweep of Dartmouth.
In Bryce Aiken’s continuing absence, Noah Kirkwood showcased the offensive versatility that made him last season’s Ivy Rookie of the Year by leading the Crimson (13-4, 2-0 Ivy) with 17 points (five triples). Alongside Kirkwood, Harvard’s pair of frontcourt Chrises (Ledlum and Lewis) continued to provide crucial production, combining for 25 points and 14 rebounds.
While the Crimson were hot from behind the arc, making 12 of 29, they had an abysmal day from the free throw line, missing 10 of 16 overall attempts and an astounding six in the final minute. The Big Green (7-10, 0-2) proved their resilience by mounting two rallies, first to recover the lead after Harvard jumped ahead 19-11 in the first half, and second to cut a comfortable 68-55 margin to a four-point final score. Taurus Samuels and Aaryn Rai combined for 34 points to lead Dartmouth, and star forward Chris Knight was held to only eight on 4-for-11 shooting. In the end, a sizable advantage in bench points (24-8) and a strong defensive effort on the road were enough to push Harvard into an early three-way tie with Princeton and Yale at the top of the Ivy.
Dartmouth was able to mount two late comebacks against the Crimson by taking advantage of two weaknesses: Harvard’s lack of ballhandling and its tendency to choke at the free throw line late in games. The latter vulnerability will likely be less dramatic in the future; after all, the normally excellent Christian Juzang missed all three of his free throws. The former promises to be more of a concern for coach Tommy Amaker and his staff, since the backcourt depth is thin behind Juzang, and even the battle-hardened senior has not been able to shake his proclivity for turning the ball over late in games. Unless the Harvard coaches are able to upgrade schematically against aggressive defensive pressure, forwards like Kirkwood or Justin Bassey learn to take better care of the ball, or Aiken returns at something approaching full strength, Harvard’s Ivy opponents will have a distinct advantage in the closing stretch.
Harvard enters its most challenging stretch of the Ivy season, embarking on the road for games against Penn, Princeton, Yale and Brown. This presents a golden opportunity for the Crimson to prove that they can contend in the top tier of the Ivy league even with Aiken sidelined or impaired, but it seems more likely at this point that Harvard belongs to the second tier. A 2-2 road trip record would put the Crimson in a decent position heading back to Lavietes; a worse result would be reason to worry about their ability to come away with a home win in the Ivy League Tournament.