Women’s basketball falls to late Harvard run

by Alexander Agadjanian | 1/25/15 9:35pm

Lakin Roland ’16 goes up for a contested shot during Saturday’s last minute loss to Harvard University.

After putting themselves on the scoreboard with Amber Mixon’s ’18 layup only seconds into the game, the Dartmouth women’s basketball team led the Harvard Crimson for all but 1:01 of the remaining 40 minutes of action on Saturday night. However, a furious late-game comeback by the visitors would change all of that.

Clawing back from a 14-point deficit with just over six minutes to go and igniting a 12-2 run in the final one and a half minutes, the Crimson (8-8, 1-1) would hand a stunning defeat to the Big Green (10-6, 1-1) by a final count of 75-69. After a dominating first-half effort, Dartmouth would see its offensive effectiveness wear off in the final 20 minutes.

Looking to extend a season-high five-game win streak, the Big Green headed into Saturday’s marquee matchup facing off against the same squad it played two weeks ago. Having already handily beaten Harvard 76-61 in Cambridge, Massachusetts then, the team now sought to complete the season sweep against one of its most formidable Ivy League foes.

The contest could not have started better for Dartmouth, as it ripped off an 8-0 advantage in the first 42 seconds of the game that would force a Harvard timeout. For the remainder of the half, the Crimson would narrow the margin to no closer than four points. The electrifying opening stretch proved emblematic for the team’s first half performance, as a brazen display of energy would define play on both ends of the court.

Offensively, persistent and creative ball movement would develop excellent scoring opportunities and angles on the basket. The Big Green would capitalize on most of those opportunities, but left some on the table, with Fanni Szabo ’17 collecting 12 points and Mixon adding seven by halftime. The three-point line helped to extend the difference for Dartmouth as well, as the team converted four threes while Harvard failed to make any in the first half.

When not in possession of the ball, a tenacious defense — established from the onset with a full-court press — heavily disrupted the Crimson’s ability to settle into the game. Upon completion of the first 20 minutes of action, the Big Green produced a turnover margin of positive three. Furthermore, the hosts would not allow a single made field goal in the final 7:28 of the first half, as the team carried a seemingly insurmountable 39-26 edge into the break.

“I think Dartmouth’s pressure set us on our heels,” said Harvard coach Kathy Delaney-Smith about the defense her team encountered. “We weren’t getting stops on the defensive end so we were on our heels on the offensive end. Nothing felt good, we didn’t execute.”

Even three-fourths of the way into the second half, the course of the game seemed as auspicious as ever for the home team. The two squads continued to trade blows, but Dartmouth still maintained a 62-48 up until the 5:55 mark, matching its largest lead in the entire game. However, in a perplexing four-second sequence that would follow, Harvard would slice that gap in half, gaining a momentum boost in the process.

Crimson junior Shilpa Tummala attacked the paint and drew contact on a made basket. After missing the free throw attempt, Tummala would receive the ball again and drain a three pointer at the top of the key. However, the officials would call a foul on Dartmouth center Olivia Smith, situated away from the play in the paint, and give Harvard an additional two good free throws on top of counting the three-pointer.

After three consecutive easy layups missed by Harvard 20 seconds later, Mixon would assist the Dartmouth’s season-leading scorer in Szabo on the other end of the court to land a layup. The exhilarating play snapped a 5-0 Crimson run, and gave momentary relief to the squad and Leede Arena supporters.

Nevertheless, Harvard would remain firmly in contention and cut its deficit to four points with less than four minutes to play. A Big Green three at the 3:22 mark would make it 67-60, after which the visitors would grab complete control, as the three was the team’s final score until a jumper with 18 seconds left in the game.

As the Crimson further whittled down Dartmouth’s advantage with an imposing paint attack, it finally the cracked the upper side of the scoreboard — for the first time all night — with 1:01 remaining. After Tummala converted the first but rattled out the second of two free throws, teammate Erin McDonnell would corral the rebound and give the guard another opportunity. Tummala would then knock down a three pointer on the left wing to permanently hand her team the lead.

“[Tummala], who has been overcoming some major surgeries, has started to come on strong for us,” said Delaney-Smith of her player. “We haven’t been able to play her for two years, so we’re just waiting for [Tummala] to be [herself]. And, there was a little bit of it tonight.”

Even after this heartbreaking moment and an additional two free throws good for a 70-67 Crimson edge, the Big Green still had a chance of coming back. But with 28 seconds left and coming out of a timeout, forward Lakin Roland rushed a shot attempt on a poor look on basket, eventually proving to be the team’s last true opportunity.

This juncture in the game was significant for two reasons. The forced three-point attempt capped a substandard and unbecoming performance for Roland, especially for someone two weeks removed from her best collegiate game (25 points, 9 rebounds) against the same team she saw tonight. Coach Belle Koclanes benched her early on in the first half, in which Roland played a mere five minutes, and the junior could not develop consistency thereafter.

Secondly, it epitomized the abandonment on the part of the entire Dartmouth team of what keyed first-half success — efficient and continuous ball movement. Offensive creativity evaporated for the most part in the second half, as the team would excessively rely on Szabo for generating offense. While she ended the game with a sublime 25-7-5 stat line, the sophomore was 1-4 on field goals with one turnover in the crucial final five minutes, indicating a need for greater all-around team effort.

Ultimately, balanced scoring among Harvard’s starters would pave the way to the unlikely resurgence and victory. 45 of the team’s 49 points would emerge from this core unit, headed by forward AnnMarie Healy, whose 17 points scattered nearly evenly across both halves allowed Harvard to stay within striking range.

A progression towards taking more high-percentage shots also keyed the way for the Crimson. Already a strong suit for the team, Harvard focused more on penetrating the area near the basket, notching 12 more points in the paint than it did in the first half. Such a trend amounted to an exceptional 55.2 field goal percentage in the second half.

The Big Green will be back in action 7 p.m. Friday and 6 p.m. Saturday hosting the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University, respectively.

Nick Guerriero, assistant director of varsity athletics communications, declined to make athletes available for comment by presstime.