As Columbia’s freshman guard Mike Smith persistently got to the rim for layups, freshman forward Patrick Tape stretched out to knock down shots deep, and the Lions gradually chipped away at what was a 16-point halftime Harvard lead, the Crimson found themselves on the uncomfortable side of deja vu.
The Crimson had been in the same type of game at Columbia on Jan. 28, only they were the ones trying to race the clock and climb out of a big second-half hole.
They put together a furious 18-3 run to put late pressure on the Lions, but couldn’t finish off the rally on the way to a 65-62 loss.
So on Friday night at Lavietes Pavilion, even after a lights-out first half in which Harvard shot 58 percent, nine different players got in the scoring column, and the Crimson went into the locker room up 46-30 (their first halftime lead in eight games), the hosts knew the game was far from over.
“We homed in on the scouting report, so we knew what was coming,” said freshman forward Seth Towns.
Columbia stormed back behind 13 points from Tape and 12 from Smith before Harvard escaped with a 78-72 win.
Time and again, the Crimson seemed to knock down a shot that should’ve put out the fire but didn’t.
Towns drilled a three with 13:38 left that pushed their lead back up to 12, but Lions senior forward Luke Petrasek answered right back with one of his own.
Siyani Chambers raised up for a deep three from the wing to make it 59-47 with 12:54 left, but within four minutes the Lions had made it a two-shot game again.
Bryce Aiken knocked down a corner trey with 6:40 left to put the Crimson up, 67-62, but Columbia wouldn’t go away.
The lead Harvard built in the first half evaporated with 3:12 left in the game, when Smith raced for a fast break layup that put Columbia up, 70-69.
It took one last 3-ball from senior sharpshooter Corbin Miller with 2:42 left for the Crimson to finally finish the Lions off. It put Harvard up, 72-70, and the Crimson finished things off at the free throw line.
“To fight back like that is very challenging because we’ve been in that position before and had to do that,” Chambers said.
The Crimson improved to 15-7 (7-2 in the Ivy League), but it didn’t come easy. They had to shoot 37.5 percent in the second half to come away with the win over the Lions (10-12, 4-5).
“With young guys, it makes it incredibly interesting with youth and enthusiasm and excitement, and they can do amazing things because they’re very talented,” said coach Tommy Amaker. “And you see tonight sometimes we can play like we’re in a fog as young players. But that’s the challenge and that’s the fun part. It’s one of those games you’re very hopeful and very lucky if you come out on top and we were lucky tonight.”
Towns steadied the Crimson, contributing 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists. Chambers added 13 points and eight assists. Aiken, making just his fourth start of the season with Corey Johnson out sick, was 3 of 11 but scored 12 points.
The Crimson have won three straight and nine of their last 11. Amaker said, for a young team, they’ve had the luxury to be able to sort through some ups and downs while still picking up wins as the season comes down the stretch.
“I think you’re seeing kind of who we are,” Amaker said. “We’ve been a team all year where, at times, we’ve been our own worst enemy. We’ve had some terrific performances and wonderful wins — home and away — and then we’ve had some god-awful losses [that were] just gut-wrenching . . . So we’ve been all over the map. That’s kind of who we’ve been and I anticipate that’s who we’re going to be as we close out this year.”Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @julianbenbow.