Freshman Katie Benzan scored a career high 16 points, hitting 4-of-5 three-pointers in the win against Samford. (Gil Talbot)
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Freshman Katie Benzan with a career high 16 points, hitting 4-of-5 three pointers, and junior Kirby Porter added seven points and a career high 11 rebounds to lead Harvard women's basketball (2-1) to a 57-52 win over Samford (1-2) at Lavietes Pavilion.
Senior Destiny Nunley added 10 points, and freshman Jeannie Boehm recorded five points, eight rebounds and two blocks for the Crimson, which improved to 2-0 at home this season.
"I thought we played well, we played good defense," Benzan said. "When they were coming back, we just got into a little bit of a slump, but we battled back and just got stops. We knew we'd win the game, we just had to battle it out."
Harvard held Samford to just six field goals in the first half, and held a decisive 47-36 rebounding advantage, but had to hold off a late charge by the Bulldogs to seal the win.
With Harvard holding a 50-41 lead early in the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs climbed back to cut Harvard's lead to one with 3:56 to play. Samford had a chance to take the lead but turned the ball on consecutive possessions, while Nunley accounted for two productive trips back down the floor for Harvard with a basket and a free throw to push Harvard's lead to 53-49 with under a minute to play.
Samford's Hannah Nichols missed a short jumper with Porter crashing the lane to pull down her 11th rebound of the night. Then the junior put Harvard up by five with a layup at the other end with 28 seconds to play.
The Bulldogs hit a late three-pointer to make it 55-52, but Benzan was fouled on an inbounds play and sealed the win with two free throws with 5.1 left on the clock.
In the opening quarter, the teams traded baskets at each end, with Harvard leading 10-7 at the first media timeout of the game.
Harvard went 3-for-4 from behind the arc in the quarter, but it was two quick buckets inside late in the first quarter from junior Taylor Rooks, the second after a tough offensive rebound in the paint that helped the Crimson build a 17-12 lead at the end of the opening frame.
The Crimson locked down on defense, holding Samford without a field goal for 6:37, a stretch that included most of the second quarter. With the Bulldogs cold, Harvard extended its lead to 12 points at 30-18, on a run that included three-pointers from Nunley and Benzan (two).
After Samford cut to within seven at 30-23, Boehm scored her first bucket of the game with a good move inside to give Harvard a nine-point lead at the break.
The Bulldogs kept the Harvard lead under 10 points until an aggressive drive to the bucket by sophomore Sydney Skinner resulted in a basket and a free throw, giving Harvard a 40-29 lead with 4:17 to play in the third quarter.
Benzan's fourth three-pointer of the night extended Harvard's lead to 46-32 with 2:28 to play in the third before the Bulldogs started their comeback.
Harvard takes on Boston University in a road contest next Tuesday night at Case Gym with opening tip scheduled for 7 p.m.