When Denham Wojcik hit his first basket of the night to put Harvard up 11 with 6:50 remaining, the Crimson looked well on their way to beating Dartmouth and securing their second straight Ivy victory. Unfortunately, their travel partner got a second wind and cut the lead to one with the ball in Aaryn Rai’s hands for one last shot.
As Rai quickly pushed the ball up the court and drove into the lane, Noah Kirkwood was there to meet him and force Rai into an off-balanced fadeaway jumper. The shot clanked off the back of the rim, sending the Crimson back home with a hard-fought 60-59 win.
Harvard (10-5, 2-1 Ivy), playing in its 999th Ivy League contest, entered the game with seven players on the disabled list, including starters Chris Ledlum and Idan Tretout. This resulted in more work for Kirkwood, as well as primetime roles for rookies Wojcik and Louis Lesmond.
This lineup struggled defensively at the start, as the Green (4-11, 1-2) hit its first five baskets to grab an early 10-8 lead before the opening media timeout. They quickly regrouped, using 11-2 and 13-2 runs to open up a game-high 34-21 advantage with just over five minutes left in the first half.
With the lead still at 13 with four minutes to go, Dartmouth scored the next seven points to make it 37-31 at the 33-second mark. During that run, Brendan Barry hit a three-pointer from the right elbow at the 1:53 mark, his first bucket of the night, giving him more than 1,000 points in his Big Green career.
Kirkwood would end the four-minute drought with a driving off-balance layup that somehow found its way into the hoop to put the Crimson up 39-31 at the half.
Harvard was consistent and strong on offense, shooting 59% from two (10-for-17) and 56% from three (5-for-9). Kirkwood totaled 13 points on a 5-for-7 effort from the field and Lesmond added 12 on 4-for-7 shooting. The two also combined to go 4-for-4 from the charity stripe.
After Dartmouth’s early inside success against the smaller Crimson lineup, Harvard used its quickness and aggressiveness to limit the Big Green to only one more two-pointer the rest of the half. While Dartmouth managed to shoot 46% from two (6-for-13) and three (5-for-11), the team’s top deep threats, Barry, Taurus Samuels and Garrison Wade, were a combined 1-for-6 from beyond the arc.
With both offenses struggling in the second half, the lead remained between eight and 12 for the first 13:10 minutes of the second half and the game looked as it would simply run its course.
After that Wojcik layup, in front of his father who had the night off from his assistant coaching duties at Michigan State, the Big Green started to control the glass. Dartmouth, which was -10 and -21% in rebounding at that point, went on to muscle six offensive and seven defensive rebounds compared to Harvard’s three defensive boards.
These boards led to six free throws and the Big Green were successful on all attempts. Ryan Cornish added a seventh free throw to that list after driving past Wojcik for an old-fashioned three-point play.
Dartmouth ended up going 17-for-18 from the line.
With Dartmouth on an 11-3 run, the only Harvard bucket being a Kirkwood step-back three from the top of the key at the 3:10 mark, the score was 60-57 with a minute to go in regulation.
Barry missed a three from the right elbow, but Rai gathered the rebound. He missed the layup but grabbed the ball and went up for another attempt from close range. Kirkwood was there to get a hand on it and deflect the ball into Wojcik’s hands.
After working the clock down to four seconds, Kyle Catchings missed a three from the right elbow and Dartmouth got the ball. Cornish took over and hoisted a quick three from near midcourt, which hit nothing but air. Fortunately, Dame Adelekun caught the shot and hit the layup to cut the lead to two with 10 seconds on the clock.
A foul at the six-second mark brought Luka Sakota to the line for the one-and-one. Sakota’s shot hit the back of the rim and Rai grabbed the rebound over Catchings, as he started his fateful last drive of the night.
As usual for the 2021-22 Crimson, Kirkwood was the star of the night. The senior finished with 24 points on 60% shooting, five assists, three rebounds, three steals and the big late-game block. Lesmond didn’t add any points in the second half, finishing three points short of his career high.
Adelekun was the big star for the Big Green with 14 points (including 6-for-6 from the line), eight rebounds (four offensive) and three blocks. Cornish had 13 points with a perfect 5-for-5 effort from the line and four rebounds. Dartmouth’s top three scorers, Barry, Rai and Samuels, who averaged a combined 35.7 points per game, ended the night with a total of 16 points on 22% shooting (6-for-27).
Harvard is the only Ivy in the conference’s top three in both scoring offense and scoring defense. The Crimson lead the league in turnover margin by a wide margin and generally perform well at the foul line, ranking third in shooting percentage there among Ivies.
Both teams are back in action on Saturday with 2 p.m. games on ESPN+. Harvard will travel up to Ithaca to take on Cornell (1-3 Ivy), while Dartmouth welcomes first-place and undefeated Princeton (4-0).