On Wednesday night, the 6-seed Harvard Crimson outlasted the 3-seed Georgetown men’s basketball team in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament (NIT), winning a tightly fought contest, 71-68. For the Hoyas (19-14, 9-9 Big East), it was their first game at McDonough Arena on campus since 2016. A back-and-forth battle throughout, neither team led by more than seven at any point. With the win, Harvard (19-11, 10-4 Ivy League) now moves on to face North Carolina State (23-11, 9-9 ACC) on Saturday in Raleigh, NC.
“You have to take your hats off to Harvard,” Georgetown head coach Patrick Ewing said. “They played hard. They played more together. They played more as a team. They shared the ball. They made the plays that needed to be made, especially down the stretch.”
The Crimson started the game in control and after a move and layup inside from senior forward Weisner Perez, they quickly had an 8-2 advantage. Three minutes in, graduate student forward Trey Mourning came off the bench and immediately dunked off a pass from junior guard Jagan Mosely, but Harvard came right back with another inside layup to go up 13-6. Following the under-16 break, the Hoyas began to settle into the game and, following a steal and coast-to-coast layup from freshman guard Mac McClung, they were back within three.
“Their quickness with the backcourt put a lot of pressure on the defense,” Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker said of McClung and freshman guard James Akinjo, who combined for 25 points in the loss.
A minute later, Mourning’s jumper off an Akinjo assist tied the game, but junior guard Bryce Aiken soon put Harvard back on top with a three on the other end. and neither team would lead by more than three for the remainder of the half. The Crimson offense ran through Aiken and he finished with 18 points to lead the visitors.
“On ball, off the ball, he’s such a dynamic backcourt player, and a tremendous scorer,” Amaker said of Aiken, his team’s top scorer. “People do a lot try to keep it away from him and try to keep it out of his hands and so he has to play without it a lot. I thought he was really good with that this evening to pick his spots and put pressure on the defense when he had the opportunity.”
Neither team would lead by more than three for the remainder of the half. An and-one from junior forward Robert Baker put Harvard up one with 1:30 until the break. The teams then exchanged free throws, followed by a pull-up jumper from Akinjo just before the horn sent the Hoyas into halftime up, 36-35.
The Crimson came out of the locker room the aggressor and quickly went ahead four after a 3-pointer from junior guard Justin Bassey and a jumper from junior forward Chris Lewis. Three straight 3-pointers from Govan helped keep Georgetown in it and tied the game back up at 45. After freshman forward Josh LeBlanc converted an acrobatic tip-in to cap off a 6-0 run, the Hoyas took a 54-49 advantage with 12 minutes to go. The Crimson immediately responded though, with an 8-0 run, highlighted by a pair of Baker threes. With Harvard up five, Georgetown went on another 6-0 stretch, forcing another Amaker timeout. The teams continued to exchange baskets until an Aiken step-back jumper put the Crimson up two with 1:34 left. Akinjo missed a layup on the other end and fouled Aiken, sending the 85.5 percent free throw shooter to the line. He made both to extend the margin to four. Govan responded with his fourth three of the night off a McClung assist, but Akinjo again sent Aiken to the line where he would not miss. On Georgetown’s last possession, Govan airballed a 3-point attempt to tie, and senior guard Greg Malinowski could not convert on a desperation shot at the buzzer.
“We didn’t execute it the way that we normally do because we had different personnel in the game, but we got the look we wanted,” Ewing said of the final play. “Greg got a great offensive rebound and he just wasn’t able to get a good shot off at the end.”
Senior center Jessie Govan led the way with 25 points, including four 3-pointers, but struggled on the glass, grabbing just four rebounds. Despite a size advantage, the Hoyas collected 30 rebounds compared to the Crimson’s 39.
“Right now it hurts,” Ewing said. “I’m disappointed. It’s a tough loss. And now we have to start going out to recruit and start getting ready for next year.”
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