Penn survives late Harvard rally to win 78-74

Harvard’s long-awaited homecoming ended in heartbreak.

Penn built enough of a cushion to absorb a spectacular late Harvard rally to secure a 78-74 victory on Friday night before a packed house at Lavietes Pavilion.

Harvard dropped to 10-7 overall and 2-3 in the Ivy League in its first home game since Jan. 7. Penn improved to 8-12 and 5-2. Harvard goes back on the road for a back-to-back at Brown and Yale next weekend.

“That was another Ivy League contest and it always seems in our league that they are hard, tough-fought games,” said Harvard coach Tommy Amaker. “I was really pleased with the crowd and the students who were here and having the band and a great atmosphere.

“It was what we recognize and come to expect. But this is what Ivy basketball is about and we just came up short.”

Yale shot 47.5% from the floor and was led by Jordan Dingle with 31 points. Harvard shot 46.7% with Noah Kirkwood and Luka Sakota combining for 45 points. The defining stat was from the free-throw line. Yale sank 17-of-20 while the Crimson were 11-of-20.

“The shortcoming for us was at the free-throw line,” said Amaker. “It is hard to overcome that when you are trying to make up ground and get back in the game.”

The Crimson started strong on both ends and took a 12-2 lead into the first media timeout. Sakota delivered from the perimeter while senior forward Mason Forbes was effective in the key.

Harvard maintained its back-end intensity, forced turnovers and set Kirkwood loose to outmaneuver Penn’s man-zone defense in the offensive zone. Kirkwood drained a pair of turnaround jumpers and drove the middle of the key to put the Crimson up 24-12 into the second media timeout.

Swingman Lucas Monroe’s consecutive drives to the rim started a Penn surge that cut the lead to 28-20 and compelled Amaker to call timeout. Penn sophomore guard Max Martz’s marksmanship from the outside cut the lead to 37-34 into the final media timeout.

The Quakers were relentless down the stretch and took a 41-37 lead on Dingle’s trey from the top of the key. Dingle, who finished the half with 23 points, hit four free throws in the final minute to put Penn up 45-38 at the intermission.

“He (Dingle) got into a rhythm getting to the basket and we just didn’t do a good enough job on him,” said Amaker.

The Quakers enjoyed a momentum carryover into the second half and bolted to a 51-42 lead into the first media timeout. Clark Slajchert drained a pull-up jumper and a floater during the opening surge.

Senior forward Kale Catchings led Harvard’s response with eight unanswered points that included a corner 3 and a sweet step-back from the top of the key. Evan Nelson converted a 3-point play to tie the game 53-53 with 11:30 to play.

Yale countered with five unanswered points to go up 62-57 into the third media timeout. Harvard cut it to 62-61 on two from the line by Sakota, but Penn responded with a surge to take a 72-63 lead. Harvard cut the lead to 74-72 on an NBA trey by Sakota with 13 seconds to play. But Martz’s two free throws with 4.3 seconds left secured the win.

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