With the clock winding down in the first half last night, Vermont's Eddie Benton--the nation's fourth leading scorer in Division I men's basketball--pulled up for a shot that would have pulled his team within one point of Harvard.
Unfortunately for Benton, sophomore guard Mike Scott had no intention of allowing such a scenario to unfold. Scott rejected Benton's jumper and sent the ball into the hands of freshman point guard Tim Hill. Hill raced down the floor and, after juking a hapless Vermont defender out of his shorts, layed the ball in with ease at the buzzer.
The Catamounts would never recover.
Harvard (5-2, 0-1 Ivy) controlled the second half from the onset and cruised to an impressive 81-72 victory over Vermont (2-5) at Lavietes Pavilion to break a two-game losing skid.
The story of the game was defense, defense and more defense. The Crimson smothered Benton and the Catamounts all evening, holding one of the nation's most prolific scorers to just five first-half points.
"This game for us was all about re-establishing our defense," Harvard coach Frank Sullivan said, "and I think we did that tonight. A good defensive team doesn't allow one player to go for big numbers."
Benton, who entered the contest averaging 27.7 points per game, shot just 1-of-6 from the floor in the first half. His lack of production can be attributed primarily to the intense defensive pressure of Scott and junior guard David Demian, who hounded Benton all night and never allowed him to get into any kind of rhythm.
The first half was closely contested throughout--neither team led by more than four until Hill's final basket. While Benton was not much of a factor, teammate Bernie Cieplicki picked up the slack and kept Vermont in the ball game, draining four three-pointers in the half.
But the Crimson had a not-so-secret-weapon of its own in the presence of junior Kyle Snowden. Snowden ripped the Catamounts for 22 points, 16 of those coming in the first period, and he absolutely dominated the boards in Rodmanesque fashion, pulling down 18 rebounds.
"Kyle really responded to the challenge," Sullivan said. "I thought he was a monster on the boards, and he came up with some real big plays for us."
Many of Snowden's points came as a result of Hill's brilliant play. The recently-named Ivy League Rookie of the Week scored 14 points and dished out six assists, as he once again kept the Crimson running like a well-oiled machine.
"I've kind of been put in a leadership role as the point guard," Hill said. "I think the guys have accepted me as a leader on the court, and that gives me confidence as well when I play."
Harvard opened the second half with a 17-8 run in the first 3:30 from which Vermont never recuperated. Behind a shower of treys from Demian and senior forward Mike Gilmore (12 points, three assists), the Crimson established a 12-point advantage that was never threatened by the Catamounts.
Hill started the onslaught by converting on two free throws before Demian sandwiched a three-pointer between two of Gilmore's. The rest of the game belonged to all of Harvard's perimeter shooters, as Scott and junior guard David Weaver (10 pts., four rebounds, two ass.) chipped in four and six points, respectively, down the stretch.
Although Benton padded his scoring average at the charity stripe down the stretch, it was not enough to out-do a Harvard offense that saw four players reach double figures. Coupled with a tremendous defensive performance, this was the recipe Harvard needed to get back to its winning ways.
"[We put our emphasis on] reestablishing what we established in the first four games that we won," Sullivan said. "That was a strong defensive presence and a strong rebounding presence. We really felt if we did that we would score points one way or another. This was a real big win for us."
Harvard is next in action Thursday night when it travels to Boston University to face a tough Terrier team. The Crimson will also head to California for a pair of games next week-against Cal-Poly-San Luis Obispo on December 28 and at Stanford on December 30.
Stanford should be Harvard's toughest test of the season, as the Cardinal reached the second round of last year's NCAA Tournament. Vermont 72 Harvard 81
HARVARD, 81-72 at Lavietes Pavilion Vermont 33 39 72 Harvard 38 43 81
VERMONT: Benton 6-17 14-17 28; Cieplicki 6-14 0-0 17; Grey 0-1 0-0 0; Peper 3-7 1-2 7; Conion 0-0 1-2 1; Steele 0-2 0-0 0; Maurer 1-2 0-0 3; Eisenmenger 0-4 1-2 1; Nelson 7-14 1-3 15; Chotkowski 0-0 0-0 0. TOTALS 23-61 18-26 72.
HARVARD: Demian 2-3 2-2 8; Hill 4-11 6-6 14; Gilmore 4-11 1-5 12; Weaver 3-8 3-4 10; Scott 3-3 1-2 8; Snowden 6-9 10-11 22; Grancio 1-5 3-4 5; Fisher 0-0 0-0 0; Rankin 1-5 0-0 2. TOTALS 24-55 26-34 81.