PHILADELPHIA — By the end of the first half, it felt like everyone in a Harvard jersey had stuck their hands in Penn’s pockets.
But the last little bit of thievery might have been the most important.
The clock had just ticked under 10 seconds in the first half, the Quakers were doing their best to keep their deficit at single digits going into the half. They had just taken a Laurent Rivard corner 3 like a gut punch after Kyle Casey came up with a block at the other end.
They had turned it over eight times to that point. If they could’ve protected the ball for just 20 seconds, the Quakers could keep the game in arm’s reach going into the break.
Then Miles Jackson-Cartwright dribbled the ball off his leg.
As soon as it landed in the hands of Harvard guard Siyani Chambers, his eyes immediately shot up the floor.
It was the ninth turnover the Crimson forced in the half, and Chambers wanted to make sure he cashed it in for points.
There were four seconds left, Brandyn Curry had leaked out on a fast break, streaking for the basket.
Chambers sent chest pass whizzing for Curry, who squeezed in a layup just as the horn sounded.
Over the course of the Crimson’s 83-63 blowout, the Quakers gave it away 20 times (one shy of their season high and their most against any Ivy League team), seeming to find every possible way to sabotage themselves.
The Crimson defense, which was coming off a 10-steal night against Cornell a week ago, kept lining up for the Quakers’ giveaways, turning them into 24 points.
“Something like a deflection, then you come up with the ball that’s been knocked around a little bit, that’s a steal,” said Crimson coach Tommy Amaker. “It’s not just when you’re gambling. I think being alert and aware can allow you to be in position for some of those kinds of plays and I thought that was one of the keys: being alert and aware. And you’d be amazed how sometimes you get rewarded for your concentration level.”
Harvard finished with 13 steals, the most they’ve taken from an Ivy League foe this season. Kyle Casey (12 points), Steve Moundou-Missi (14), Rivard (13) and Wesley Saunders (12) all finished in double-figures in points and Chambers finished with 10 assists, but more telling, seven of the 14 players who touched the floor for the Crimson finished with at least one steal.
With a team-high four steals, Curry had the stickiest fingers.
“It’s very contagious,” he said.
The Quakers barely finished with more field goals (22) than turnovers (20). For a Penn team averaging 16.8 turnovers, every Friday already felt like they were on the wrong end of Black Friday.
“It’s like at my grandma’s house growing up,” Penn coach Jerome Allen said. “She had this old record player and when the needle scratched it just kept playing the same bar over and over and over again. That’s what it seems like — the same thing over and over again. You’re not going to win too many basketball games turning it over at the clip we do.”
For a Penn team picked to finish second in the Ivy, it was just another disappointment in a long line of disappointments. Injuries decimated the Quakers to the point that they had to call on Matt Poplawski, a midfielder on their soccer team, to suit up.
Harvard, on the other hand, picked up its third straight win and fifth in its past six trips to the Palestra. Another win Saturday at Princeton, where Harvard hasn’t won in 29 years, would not only complete a perfect four-game road trip, it would give the Crimson their first sweep of a Penn-Princeton road trip since 1985.
“This is a huge weekend,” Curry said. “The seniors on this team, nobody’s ever won at Jadwin before. More than anything, we want that really bad.”Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.