Harvard shot 54.2% from the field and pulled away from Buffalo late to win the Fordham Holiday Classic. (Courtesy of Fordham Athletics)
NEW YORK, N.Y. – Freshman guard Katie Benzan had a game-high 18 points and five assists, and senior forward Destiny Nunley added 14 points and seven rebounds to lead Harvard women's basketball (11-1) to a 74-62 win over Buffalo (10-1) in the championship game of the Fordham Holiday Classic. Freshman forward Jeannie Boehm added eight points and a season-high six blocked shots, and Sydney Skinner and Taylor Rooks each added 10 points.
Harvard hit a season-high 54.2% (26-for-48) from the field, while recording 10 steals on the defensive end and holding Buffalo to just 34.8% (23-for-66) shooting.
Benzan was named MVP of the tournament for her efforts, while Nunley was also named to the all-tournament team. The win was Harvard's 11th straight victory, as the Crimson survived their toughest test during a winning run that has stretched six weeks of non-conference play.
Harvard made all of the big plays down the stretch, but had to survive a Buffalo team that rallied from down 13 points in the second half to pull within three at 61-58 with 4:37 to go in the fourth quarter.
Benzan made perhaps her biggest play of the game moments later, diving on the floor to grab an offensive rebound at midcourt, a play that led to a Nunley layup to put Harvard ahead by five points with 2:54 to play. After Buffalo once again pulled to within three points, junior guard Taylor Rooks hit a short jumper, and sophomore guard Madeline Raster's baseline drive put Harvard up 67-60 with just over a minute to go.
Harvard continued to get stops, and free throws by Benzan and Raster in the final minute sealed the win.
The two teams traded baskets early on, and Destiny Nunley had the hot hand early on, hitting Harvard's first two shots of the game. Her fast break layup to tie the game at 4-4 at the 7:12 mark. Rooks added four points off the bench in the opening quarter, and her short jumper pulled Harvard to within one point at 13-12.
Harvard had a great sequence to close the first quarter, as Boehm hit a hook shot in the lane with :26 to play, then Harvard got a stop to set up one final possession in the quarter. Benzan hit a long three-pointer just as the clock expired to put Harvard up 20-17 at the break.
Buffalo pushed ahead by opening the second quarter with an 8-2 run, but Skinner's corner three with 5:22 to play in the half tied the game at 25-25. Then Harvard built a commanding lead going into halftime with 10-0 run, beginning with Rooks' three pointer from straightaway to put the Crimson back ahead with 2:33 left in the half.
Skinner hit a tough layup, then Benzan used a great shot-fake to set up an open three from the wing, her third three-pointer of the first half to make it 33-27 with 1:25 to go. Sophomore guard Nani Redford's steal and layup gave the Crimson an eight-point lead going into the break.
Harvard built a double-digit lead in the third quarter with a dominant effort on both ends of the floor. After Buffalo pulled to within three at 35-32, a 14-4 run capped off by a tough layup inside by Benzan put Harvard ahead 49-36 with 2:26 left in the frame.
But Buffalo responded late in the quarter, pulling to within seven at 52-45 to make it a close game heading to the fourth.
Harvard will open Ivy League play next Saturday (Jan. 7) at Lavietes Pavilion with a 2:00 p.m. contest against Dartmouth. The game will be available to stream on the Ivy League Digital Network
Game Notes: This was the first ever meeting between Buffalo and Harvard…Harvard has won 11 games in a row, all in non-league play, and is off to its best start ever at 11-1...Harvard is in the midst of its longest winning streak since a 12-game run during the 2006-07 season…The Crimson were ranked 9th in the latest ESPNW Mid-Major rankings, while Buffalo was ranked 3rd in the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25.