Game No. 1: Harvard (#1) 74, Cornell (#4) 55
“My teammates have confidence in me to make plays and that’s what I try to do,” said a stoic Seth Towns, who’s game-high 24 points led the Harvard Crimson to a 74-55 Ivy League Tournament semifinal victory over the Cornell Big Red inside of the historic Palestra on Saturday afternoon.
Towns, who shot 3-11 in the first half, was able to steady himself by getting to the free-throw line six times in the first frame, which set the stage for a 12-point, 4-7 shooting second half in which he looked much more like himself.
“He’s a tremendous offensive player… I’ve referred to him as our most important player” said Crimson head coach Tommy Amaker after the victory.
Harvard went into the break nursing a five-point lead despite shooting only 39% from the field in the first half, as the three-point shot proved to be the equalizer that kept them within striking distance.
The Crimson shot 6-15 (40%) from downtown in the opening half, including a halfcourt buzzer-beater from Christian Juzang that sent the momentum veering in Harvard’s direction.
What a way to end the half! Christian Juzang knocks down the half court heave for @HarvardMBB !
— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) March 10, 2018
“Once it left my hands it felt good and it looked good,” said Juzang of his big shot. “(Teammate) Corey Johnson beat me in HORSE the other day on that shot, so I looked right at him.”
One the second half commenced, the Crimson were relentless defensively, suffocating Cornell guard Matt Morgan, who finished with a team-high 19 points on the day.
Outside of Morgan and big man Stone Gettings, the Big Red struggled to muster up much offense, with the rest of the team going 11-27 from the field.
Cornell hit a major offensive dry spell during the midway part of the second half, where they went several minutes without a field goal, which allowed Harvard to take the margin from respectable to insurmountable.
“Our communication was a big key,” said Juzang of the Crimson’s improved defensive showing in the second half. “Shots are and aren’t going to fall sometimes, but the one thing you can control is your defense, so we tried to pick it up on that end.”
Harvard big man Chris Lewis, who recorded a double-double (16 points, 10 rebounds), was also huge in the semifinal win as well.
When the Crimson struggled to generate clean looks offensively, they dumped the ball down to Lewis who put the defense in a compromising position time and time again, forcing multiple Cornell defenders to converge which yielded high-percentage shots for Harvard.
“We’re an inside-out program and we play through Chris Lewis,” said Amaker. “He’s the pillar and anchor for us… we play around him and it makes a big difference. He’s the key for our team and it allows all the other pieces to flow and fit.”
Lewis only scored four points in the first half, but he was able to soften Cornell’s defense and allowed the Crimson, who seemed nervous to start, to settle in and get comfortable.
When asked about making it to the championship game and their potential opponent, Towns seemed confident his team would be ready.
“We’re going to prepare for that game that we prepare for most others. Obviously, it’s a championship game, but we’re going to keep the same approach.”
Game No. 2: Penn (#2) 80, Yale (#3) 57
Penn cemented their spot in the Ivy League championship with a 23-point thrashing of the Yale Bulldogs in front of an electric home crowd, and they hope to ride that same wave of energy on Sunday when they battle for the trophy.
It was a wire-to-wire victory for the Quakers, who led by as many as 29 points.
Penn big man AJ Brodeur finished with a game-high 25 points as well as 10 rebounds for the Quakers, and he’s now slated for what is sure to be an intense and testy an interior battle with Harvard’s Lewis.
“We’re ready to play them tomorrow,” said Brodeur. “We’ve still got a lot of things to do in the scouting and some little things to perfect to get us to where we want to be.”
In addition to Brodeur’s 25 points, Darnell Foreman and Max Rothschild both added 11 apiece.
Penn was able to move the ball freely on offense, racking up 14 assists on 29 made baskets. Everyone got a touch, and most of the Quakers’ shots were of the open variety.
“It’s great… guys just sharing it and being comfortable,” Foreman said of the ball movement. “That’s how basketball should be played… Everyone taking their time and looking for the next guy and the best shot.”
Not only was Penn’s offense high-octane, but their defense was clicking on all cylinders as well. Yale only shot 32% from the field, including 18% from behind the arc. The Quakers stymied the Bulldogs all evening long en-route to the blowout victory.
Quakers head coach Steve Donahue was happy with his team’s performance and proud of the way they competed.
“It’s satisfying,” said Donahue of the win. “To execute like that, against this team in this environment… we feel great about it.”
The championship matchup between Harvard and Penn will take place at 12:00 PM ET and will be broadcasted on ESPN2. Be sure to follow us on Twitter and Instagram, as we’ll have live coverage from the Palestra.