It's not too often that a defense can be proud about holding someone to 28 points.
But that's how Harvard feels about the job it did on Eddie Benton last night in its 81-72 win. The Vermont senior came in to the contest with a 27.7 points-per-game scoring average, but most of those came during garbage time when the Catamounts had little chance of winning.
Harvard handcuffed Benton, pure and simple. He shot an atrocious 6-for-17 on the night and 1-for-6 in the first half. Benton has scored 2,032 career points--the most in Division 1--but he could not carry his team to victory.
Why not? Thank Harvard junior Dave Demian and sophomore Mike Scott. Though Benton is a point guard--and, at 5'11", he's threatening to break Calvin Murphy's career mark of 2,540 points for an under-six-foot player--the pair of Crimson off-guards took this assignment and totally contained him.
At first, things looked a little scary for Harvard. Demian started the game, as Harvard coach Frank Sullivan wanted to rotate him and Scott every six minutes or so to keep them fresh. Within two minutes, however, Demian had two fouls on him, giving the Crimson bench a tough decision.
Well, not that tough.
"Usually we'd take him out [in that situation]," Sullivan said. "But the consensus among the coaches was to keep him in--[Demian] was just getting his feet wet."
It was a wise choice. Demian did not foul the rest of the half, during which time he and Scott held Benton to one bucket and a couple of free throws for five points. The only reason Vermont was as close as it was at halftime (38-33) was the work of Catamount Bernie Cieplicki, who hit 4-of-7 three-pointers and had 14 points.
"We played [Benton] 'black', to try to deny him the ball," Scott said. "We felt like we did a good job in the first half."
Harvard's goal for the second half, then, was to stop Cieplicki while maintaining the lid on Benton. That didn't look too tough a challenge, as Cieplicki couldn't dribble to save his life.
And the Crimson successfully met that goal. Cieplicki had three points in the second half, and Benton didn't start scoring until the Crimson had built a double-digit lead. The Catamounts didn't get within 10 points until there was less than 1:10 left in the game.
That's why this win was so refreshing for Harvard. The Crimson won by shutting down its opponent's top gun, something that it didn't do last Tuesday to Dartmouth's Sea Lonergan, who scored 30 points in his team's win over the Crimson.
And it also presented a change from the Lehigh loss, when Harvard allowed the Engineers to score 30 points and shoot over 50 percent from the field.
See a pattern? Harvard achieves its defensive goals and it wins. Harvard doesn't achieve its defensive goals and it loses, Deep.
"It was a real big win for us," Sullivan said. "Not only just to break the two-game losing streak and [beat] a team with a prolific scorer but more to establish our defense back again, which I think we did."
After the Crimson's seventh game this year, it is 100-percent clear that the team's fortunes will depend on how well its defense does. Junior Kyle Snowden will get his double-doubles and junior David Weaver and senior Mike Gilmore will hit threes, but the defense will be key.