BOULDER, Colo. — The Harvard men’s basketball team was oh so close to an early-season signature road win Sunday, but it slipped away in the final minutes.
Harvard (4-1) squandered a 12-point halftime lead in a 70-62 nonconference loss to host Colorado (6-1) . The disappointing loss was a tough start to a six-game road trip.
“I thought we played exceptionally well in the first half. We shot the ball well,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “I’m very disappointed in us not being able to make some open shots and I thought we had a boatload of them in the second half.”
Facing a well-regarded Colorado team, winners of six straight, the Crimson faced its toughest test of the season, and for the first half Harvard looked more than capable of pulling off the upset.
The Crimson stormed to a 16-4 lead less than four minutes into the game. During the stretch, Harvard hit six of its first seven shots and guard Siyani Chambers (12 points) had 8 quick points on two 3-pointers and a layup off a backcourt steal.
“We were playing hard defensively and getting the pace up and trying to push it,” Crimson forward Wesley Saunders said of the fast start. “We were making some shots in the first half.”
Colorado regained its footing and chipped away at the Harvard lead, narrowing the score to 19-16. Harvard, however, regained control and finished out the final 6:07 of the first half on a 13-6 run to take a 42-30 lead at the break.
“Harvard is such a good ball-movement team, they move the ball quickly,” Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. “If you don’t move with the ball, you are going to get beat, and that’s what happened in the first half.”
Harvard seemed a step quicker than Colorado in the first half, forcing the Buffaloes to commit nine turnovers to five for the Crimson.
“We were really locked in on the defensive end, making them take tough shots and keeping them to one shot and not giving up second chances,” Chambers said. “In the first half we went in and showed we can battle anybody.”
The second half was the inverse of the first half.
Colorado won the second half 40-20. The Colorado crowd, quiet in the first half, came alive , giving the Buffaloes an energy boost.
“I thought Colorado played exceptional in the second half and we played very poorly,” Amaker said. “I thought their offense was in a much better rhythm in the second half.”
“Our shot selection in the second half wasn’t great. We missed some wide-open shots and got frustrated.”
The critical stretch in the game came as the Buffaloes trimmed the 12-point Crimson lead to 50-46 with 9:10 to play. Harvard went ice cold just as the Buffaloes got hot from the outside.
From 8:23 to 3:27, Colorado rattled off 14 straight points, including three 3-pointers, two by forward Xavier Johnson and one by star guard Spencer Dinwiddie.
“Those two threes by Johnson were big and the one by Spencer was huge,” Boyle said. “It was a tale of two halves, offensively and defensively for both teams.”
Harvard never recovered from Colorado’s surge. Harvard never got closer than 4 down the stretch.
“We just got tired [in the second half] and stopped doing our assignments,” Chambers said. “We stopped boxing out as a team.”
The taller and more physical Buffaloes dominated on the boards (46-29).
“This was a physical game,” Boyle said. “I thought Harvard wore down a little bit in the second half.”
Dinwiddie led all scorers with 17 points and Steve Moundou-Missi led Harvard with 13 points and nine rebounds.
The Crimson have a few days until their next game — on Thanksgiving against Denver at the Great Alaskan Shootout — but this hard-luck loss will likely resonate for some time.
“It’s a very tough loss,” Amaker said. “It hurts for us because we thought we did some pretty darn good things, especially in the first 20 minutes. But, you have got to play 40 minutes.”