It would be an unfair assumption, perhaps, to think that any Ivy League team would be a quick study and learn from the mistakes made just 24 hours before.
Harvard had an opportunity to pass that test on Saturday. The Crimson won the game, knocking off Brown in double overtime, 89-82, after squandering a 22-point second-half lead. They might not have passed the test, although the victory, they’ll tell you, is much more important.
On Friday, the Crimson built a 13-point home halftime lead on Yale, only to see the Bulldogs chip away in the second half and have the ball, down 3, in the closing seconds. Harvard hung on for a 67-64 win.
On Saturday, the season’s first two-games-in-two-nights that is synonymous with the Ivy League schedule, Harvard once again went to the locker room at Lavietes Pavilion with a 13-point cushion at the break. And just like the night before, the Crimson were forced to sweat out a victory.
This one was much more nerve-wracking.
“A little tighter than we’d like them to be, but we were able to pull out the victory,” said Wesley Saunders, one of four Harvard players in double figures with 18 points.
Brown scored 5 points in the final 13 seconds of regulation, all by Sean McGonagill, to force overtime. McGonagill banked in a 3-pointer from the top of the key to make it 69-67, then buried a jumper at the buzzer after Harvard turned the ball over on the inbounds pass.
The Crimson built a 3-point lead three times in the first overtime, but Brown battled back each time, and prompted a second extra session on a 3-pointer by Stephen Albrecht with 18 seconds left that tied it at 78. Saunders had a chance to win it, but his bid for a reverse layup with two seconds left rolled off the rim.
Harvard was in control in the second overtime, taking the lead for good on a Christian Webster 3-pointer on the first possession. Webster had 16 points, 8 in the overtimes. He made both of his 3-pointers after regulation.
“I just had the opportunity to shoot, they left me open, I took the opportunity, and luckily the shots went in,” said Webster, who was 4 of 7 behind the arc.
Unlike Friday, Harvard came out in the second half and added to its lead. The lead on Saturday actually swelled to 22 points, at 63-41 on a 3-pointer by Laurent Rivard (16 points) with 12:53 left. The Crimson would make only one field goal the rest of the second half, however, with Brown using a 28-6 run to somehow pull even.
“I thought we played in stretches as well as we can play,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “I thought they played magnificent basketball, making some tough shots. Every critical one they certainly buried.
“I gave our team so much praise in the locker room after the game to have the toughness, the poise, and the confidence after losing the lead like that to fight through in overtime. All the momentum had shifted and switched.”
It was obvious from the start that Harvard wanted to push the pace. Making shots also helps, and the Crimson knocked down their first six, jumping out to a 16-9 lead not five minutes in. Steve Moundou-Missi (9 points, 9 rebounds) had back-to-back conventional 3-point plays, and Rivard made the first of his four 3-pointers in the initial burst.
The Bears (8-10, 2-2) hung around with the long ball, knocking down six 3-pointers in the first half, including three straight possessions (two by Albrecht, one by Tucker Halpern).
Brown’s first-half statistics weren’t bad, yet it trailed, 49-36, at the break. The Bears shot 47 percent, and 43 percent on 3-pointers.
Harvard, though, made 17 of 26 shots for 65 percent. The 49 first-half points were easily a season high.
The second half was an entirely different story. Or the exact same story, considering Friday. There might have been plenty for the Crimson coaches to cringe about, but at 4-0 in the Ivy League (12-6 overall), they’re alone in first place.
“I think it’s making us realize that if we need to get a win, we can get a win, whether we’re down, up, up a lot, any situation, we feel like we can just pull a win out,” said Webster.