Much like its previous meeting against Penn (9-12, 4-5 Ivy League), Harvard (12-10, 6-4) fell down by a wide margin early and staged a furious late rally in the pivotal conference matchup at Lavietes Pavilion on Saturday. However, the Crimson was unable to replicate the successful comeback it made on Jan. 29, eventually falling to the Quakers in overtime by a score of 87-78.
Harvard’s tandem of junior guard McKenzie Forbes and first-year guard Harmoni Turner had one of its most productive games of the season, scoring 30 and 23 points, respectively. Senior guard Tess Sussman, junior guard Maggie McCarthy, and Turner each tallied seven rebounds on the day, while McCarthy recorded a career-high eight steals.
The day was commemorated as KDS Day in celebration of the team’s decorated coach, Kathy Delaney-Smith, the most successful coach in Ivy League history. The gym was filled with children, parents, and students alike dawning shirts with Delaney-Smith’s signature motto, “Act as If”. Despite the heartbreaking loss, joy filled Lavietes Pavilion as the crowd reminisced about Delaney-Smith’s career and the legacy she has built in the storied arena.
“I love coaching. I’m one of those lucky people that loves my job,” Delaney-Smith said. “[Harvard] was a special place because of the people. I love my student athletes, that’s why I’m here and that’s why I stayed here.”
Early on, Harvard struggled in its effort to reward Delaney-Smith with a win in her penultimate regular season home game, with the Quakers jumping to a quick 6-0 lead. Forbes ignited the Crimson’s offense, scoring a tough layup and three-pointer to make it a one-point game. The teams traded baskets until Turner muscled her way for a contested layup that evened the game at 11-11. Then, Penn sophomore forward Jordan Obi took over, completing a solo 8-2 scoring run that gave Penn a 19-13 advantage after one quarter.
Penn carried its dominance into the second quarter, outscoring Harvard 22-13 in the period. Forbes opened the scoring with a turnaround jumper over Obi, but the Quakers responded with six unanswered points to earn its first double-digit lead of the game, 25-15. Forbes connected with McCarthy for a rainbow three-pointer, only for Obi to return the favor, nailing a stepback three in Forbes’ face. Penn junior guard Kayla Padilla converted a tough and-one, followed by a Forbes three pointer, then Padilla responded with a three of her own, ballooning Penn’s lead to 34-21. The Quakers continued their rally, pushing their lead to its largest of the night, 17, before Forbes scored the final points of the quarter to go into halftime down 41-26. The Crimson shot just 10-36 from the field in the half, while the Quakers shot over 50% and outrebounded the Crimson 28 to 12.
“I was very unhappy and I thought we were absolutely horrible and selfish in the first half,” Delaney-Smith said. “I think my team was ready and then they just didn't play well on either end. We were allowing the middle drive and we were taking really bad shots on offense and no one went to the board except for Maggie [McCarthy].”
The third quarter saw Harvard lock down defensively and follow Delaney-Smith's urgent demands to attack the paint and rebound. The Crimson began the period on a 10-2 run to claw its way back into the contest. Penn’s lead teetered around seven points for the remainder of the period until Harvard cooled down and went scoreless for the final 3:30 of the quarter. Penn capitalized and added two more field goals to widen its lead to 51-40 heading into the final stanza.
The fourth quarter set the stage for a tantalizing Harvard comeback. Sophomore guard Lola Mullaney started the scoring off of a putback layup followed up by a Forbes contested layup to pull within seven once again. Penn responded with a pair of free throws, then Harmoni Turner took over. Turner knocked down a deep, moving three-pointer and back-to-back midrange jumpers, cutting the deficit to 58-52.
Penn clung onto its lead, trading baskets with Harvard until back-to-back field goals from Forbes and Turner pulled the Crimson within four. Harvard struggled to get closer as Penn benefitted from numerous foul calls, allowing it to extend its lead to 72-65 with a minute left. All seemed lost for the Crimson, but Forbes stepped up and led the team on a tear.
First, she knocked down a three-pointer off of a screen by Sussman. With less than a minute remaining, Harvard was forced to play the foul game and hope that Penn missed its free throws. Luckily for the Crimson, the Quakers split their free throws. Forbes proceeded to march down the court and connect on another three-pointer; this time, she was fouled, allowing her to convert a four-point play that sent the crowd roaring and make it a one-point game.
The Quakers made their next two free throws, prompting Delaney-Smith to call a timeout with 14.9 seconds left. Off the out-of-bounds play, Turner missed a contested three pointer, but Forbes corralled the offensive rebound and dished it to Mullaney, who hit a game-tying three-pointer from several feet behind the three-point arc. Pandemonium broke out in Lavietes Pavilion as Harvard forced overtime.
“When the time was running down, I just knew [that] someone has to be aggressive,” said Forbes when asked about her thought process late in the game. “It doesn't necessarily mean I’m going to shoot it every time… it means try to attack, try to find people, and then when I did have a shot, [I] take it with confidence.”
The game would not have the fairy tale ending that the Crimson had hoped for. The team ran out of gas in OT, as Penn’s tandem of Padilla and Obi embarked on a 10-0 run. McCarthy found Forbes wide open at the top of the key for a three-pointer, but that ended up being the Crimson’s only basket in OT, as the team fell 87-78 to its conference rival.
The defeat evened the season series between the two programs and ended the Crimson’s five-game winning streak. Harvard squandered its opportunity to move into the outright third-place standing in the Ivy League, where it now remains tied with hated rivals Yale for the spot. The team will travel to New York to battle against Columbia and Cornell next weekend.
— Staff writer Oscar E. Mercado can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.