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Harvard Loses Overtime Heartbreaker to Brown in Game With Major Playoff Implications

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Updated March 2, 2024, at 12:28 p.m.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Harvard men’s basketball (14-11, 5-7 Ivy) stormed back from a 17 point deficit to force overtime against Brown (10-17, 6-6 Ivy), only to lose 71-68 in a heartbreaker that dampens the Crimson’s chances to secure the fourth seed in the Ivy League tournament.

Harvard battled back from a 58-49 deficit late in the second half to go on a 12-0 run and lead 61-58 with 18 seconds on the clock. The Bears’ Kino Lilly Jr. made a clutch three-pointer with just five seconds on the clock to force the game into overtime.

Brown fans rushed onto the court to celebrate as the clock ran out in overtime, ending an electric game with Brown fans shaking Pizzitola Sports Center with their enthusiasm throughout the evening.

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The first overtime thriller of this season’s edition of the Ivy League did not disappoint. Set up from tip-off as a swing-matchup that would determine control of the fourth and final spot in the Ivy Madness tournament, Brown’s win over Harvard had it all, physical blocks, four point plays, and a breathless overtime period— all in front of 1,700 vocal Brown fans.

The game started off with Brown’s Kino Lilly Jr. having his first three-point attempt of the contest characteristically blocked by a stretching senior forward Justice Ajogbor.

Lilly Jr., however, was able to gather his own rebound, and sank a second-attempt three-pointer to give Brown the first points of the contest.

Points would prove hard to come by in a tense first half, especially for the Crimson, who trailed 11-4 with 10 minutes left in the first half. First-year guard Malik Mack then started and finished a couple of tough drives to the rim, adding a pair of crafty layups to double Harvard’s point tally, and kick start the Crimson.

Brown continued to make life hard for Harvard with its physical play under the rim and aggressive rebounding. The Bears out-rebounded their opponents 23-15 in the first half, including 11 offensive rebounds, making it difficult for the Crimson to close an early gap.

Mack was able to push Harvard within single digits of the Bears before halftime, as the star guard hit a pair of three pointers and two free throws to bring his first-half tally up to 12 points.

Despite the Crimson’s progress, Brown would get the last action of the first half, as Lilly Jr. easily drove the length of court for a layup to put Brown on top at the break, 28-19.

The second half of the contest showed two teams unrecognizable from their first half performances. Harvard and Brown had shot a combined 20 percent 4-of-20 from three point range in the first half. In the second, Harvard knocked down 6-of-9 attempts on 66.7 percent shooting, while Brown followed suit, hitting 5-of-7 for a whopping 71.4 percent mark from behind the arc.

Despite Harvard cutting the deficit to five early behind a three pointer and pair of layups from sophomore forward Chisom Okpara, Brown used its newfound shooting form to retake a 17 point lead, 50-33, with 11:15 left in the contest.

With ESPN analytics predicting a 99.0 percent win probability for the Bears, it would have been a mistake for Harvard fans to take their eyes off the game.

Harvard still trailing, 56-43, and faced with under seven minutes on the clock, what happened next would silence the boisterous student section inside Pizzitola Sports Center.

Initiated by a four-point play from junior guard Tyler Simon, the Crimson went on an 18-2 run, with Okpara, Mack, Ajogbor, Simon, and junior guard Louis Lesmond all hitting clutch points to put Harvard up, 61-58, with 18 seconds to play and possession in favor of the Bears.

Despite a Harvard timeout before play resumed, the Crimson was unable to stop a step-back three from Brown’s Lilly Jr., who leveled the score at 61-61 with five seconds on the clock, forcing overtime in Providence.

Lesmond started the extra period with intent, hitting a three-pointer to put the Crimson back up, 64-61. After losing the lead, Ajogbor slammed home a dunk to enter double-figure points on the night and regain a two-point edge, 66-64.

After failing to connect on a layup and three-point jumpshot, Brown regained possession through a jump-ball, finding sophomore guard Alexander Lesburt Jr. to hit a dagger three for a 67-66 Bears lead and only 56 left seconds to play.

The Crimson was unable to score on its next two possessions, forcing it to foul and stretch Brown’s lead to 71-66 off of free throws in an attempt to create one last opportunity. Mack put in a layup in the dying seconds of the game, but it was in vain, as the clock hit zero and Brown fans stormed the court, victorious, 71-68.

As a result of the loss, the Crimson has lost its right to control its own destiny in making the postseason tournament. Brown hold the head to head tiebreaker with the Crimson, having beaten Harvard earlier in the season in Cambridge. If the Bears can avoid losing both of their last two games, they will clinch the fourth and final Ivy Madness spot.

The result is undoubtedly frustrating for the Crimson. If they fail to make the postseason, this will mark the third consecutive season of narrow losses condemning Harvard to a regular season exit.

Harvard takes on Yale (19-8, 10-2 Ivy) this evening, Saturday March 2 at 7:00 p.m. EST in what has become a must-win game for the Crimson. Harvard then concludes the regular season on Tuesday, March 5 at 7:00 p.m. EST at Dartmouth (5-20, 1-11 Ivy). Both games will be broadcast on ESPN+.

—Staff writer Alexander K. Bell can be reached at alexander.bell@thecrimson.com.

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