In a game in which they were favored by 14.5 points, Harvard struggled to pull away from Columbia and barely escaped with a victory in double overtime. Mike Smith scored 38 points, more than half of Columbia’s total output, and came very close to stunning the Crimson on the road. Harvard struggled badly to generate offense, attempting most of its field goals from beyond the three-point line and making only eight of 43, and contain Smith, who took 37 shots and made 17 in 49 minutes of play. Both sides made crucial plays to extend the game. Smith drove to the basket for an open layup to tie the game at the end of regulation, and Christian Juzang scored after a crucial offensive rebound by Justin Bassey to force double overtime.
One day after Harvard dominated a clearly inferior squad at home, the Crimson failed to do the same against Columbia. Both teams struggled on offense, with each shooting 37% from the field. Chris Lewis was the lone bright spot on offense for the Crimson, scoring 16 points and gathering 11 rebounds, while his frontcourt partners Chris Ledlum and Danilo Djuricic combined for eight points on 3-for-12 shooting. Christian Juzang and Noah Kirkwood took 24 three-pointers and made only four, which was representative of Harvard’s night in general. Columbia missed a golden opportunity to upset the Crimson one night after handing Dartmouth the Big Green’s first Ivy win, and the inability of any player outside of Smith and Ike Nweke to score more than six points proved fatal in the end. It took extra time for the Lions to lose at Lavietes Pavilion last season too, but three overtimes instead of two as Bryce Aiken notched a career-high 44 points.
Saturday night’s tilt marked the third straight game between these two schools that went to overtime. Harvard has won all three.
While yesterday’s romp over Cornell seemed to augur an easier stretch ahead for the Crimson, Columbia’s near-win should serve as a wakeup call. The Crimson’s strength is in their frontcourt, and taking 43 of 75 shots from behind the arc will not be a recipe for consistent success. They also struggled mightily to contain Smith, despite a generally stout defense. All the same issues that plagued the Crimson at the beginning of conference play (subpar ballhandling, abysmal free-throw shooting, inconsistency on offense beyond Lewis and Kirkwood) have only been exacerbated. While a hot shooting night and a little luck can carry this Crimson squad to an unlikely win, as happened earlier this season against Yale, the absence of Aiken may be too much to overcome.