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Harvard needs to improve defensively with Princeton showdown six days away

Feb 10, 2013, 6:29 PM EDT

frankoski

With Princeton suffering a surprising home loss to Yale on Saturday, the Harvard Crimson entered today’s rescheduled game against Columbia with a chance to move a game ahead of the Tigers in the loss column atop the Ivy League standings.

Kyle Smith’s Lions, who got off to a less than stellar start to league play, had other ideas.

Steve Frankoski hit five three-pointers and led four Lions in double figures with 27 points in the 78-63 Columbia victory. The result drops Harvard (5-1 Ivy) back into a first place tie with Princeton (4-1), with the first meeting this season between the reigning champions and preseason favorite coming next Saturday.

Wesley Saunders was the only player to have a good afternoon offensively for Harvard, and their defensive issues were exposed as a result.

The sophomore, whose role is far greater this season due to the departure of Kyle Casey, shot 8-of-11 from the field and scored 27 points. Thirteen of those points came in the second half, but it wasn’t enough as Harvard shot 8-of-21 from the field and 0-of-5 from beyond the arc in the final 20 minutes.

Remove Saunders’ numbers for the entire game and the other Crimson players combined to shoot 10-of-31 from the field. By comparison Columbia shot 50.9% from the field and 9-of-17 from three, with this simply being the first time that Harvard’s lost as a result of their defense in Ivy League play.

In the five league games before Sunday’s defeat Harvard opponents shot 46.2% from the field, and after Columbia’s offensive performance the Crimson are seventh in the Ivy League in field goal percentage defense (47.0%).

With the offensive talent that Harvard possesses they’d been able to rack up some sizable leads in Ivy League games, most recently leading Cornell by as many as 19 points on Friday night (67-65 Harvard win), but their defense has allowed teams to fight their way back.

Columbia made Harvard pay on Sunday, and if the Crimson don’t improve defensively Princeton is every bit as capable of doing the same.

Photo credit: Columbia University Athletics (Steve Frankoski)

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej