Harvard coach Frank Sullivan must have given one heck of a halftime speech.
After a back-and-forth first half that left the men's basketball team up 37-36, the Crimson offense exploded for 51 points in the second frame and pulled away against the Northeastern Huskies (0-3, 0-0 America East), winning 88-65.
Harvard (2-1, 0-0 Ivy) took control of the game with 16-of-22 shooting (72.7 percent) in the second half and strong play from captain Dan Clemente.
Clemente led all scorers with 24 points, and sophomore guard Pat Harvey added 23.
Sophomore point guard Elliott Prasse-Freeman also tied his own single-season record for assists, chipping in 15 against the Huskies against only three turnovers.
"It was a terrific win for us," Sullivan said. "Our players weathered the storm, and we felt positive about being up after the first half."
Despite the final score, Harvard struggled early on against a Northeastern team that lost by only six points to Miami, a nationally competitive program. Luckily, the Crimson held on long enough to end the first half in comparatively good shape.
Before a minute of the game had gone by, Clemente picked up two personal fouls and had to be replaced. With over nineteen minutes left in the half, the Crimson was suddenly without its star player and offensive leader.
"The first one was my fault, I got behind the guy," Clemente said. "On the second one, I think the ref was trying to set the tone early. I mean, it was still my fault."
Clemente would sit for the next ten minutes while his teammates hung tough. Prasse-Freeman ran the show in his absence, and the Crimson pounded the ball inside to take the lead while Clemente sat.
"I give Dan credit, he didn't sulk after the two fouls, didn't sit at the end of the bench," Sullivan said. "He was animated and trying to yell plays like an assistant coach."
The first half featured nine lead changes. Northeastern shot 50 percent (13-of-26) from the floor, led by guard Charles Cranford and his 12 points. Harvard itself shot 15-of-31 from the floor during the initial frame, and despite stretches in which Clemente, Prasse-Freeman and Harvey were all on the bench, took a one-point lead into halftime.
This was mostly due to Northeastern's biggest Achilles Heel--rebounding. As in previous seasons, the Huskies' presence on the boards was weak. They picked up only 10 first-half rebounds compared to Harvard's 21 boards.
"Rebounding was very important, because Northeastern is a team that has the potential to be an explosive offensive rebounding team," Sullivan said.
Harvard came out of the locker room after the intermission with something to prove; in almost the blink of an eye the game went from close to over.
The Crimson picked off a pass on the second Northeastern possession and went inside to Clemente, who converted a layup. A few seconds later, Prasse-Freeman set up a three-point shot for Harvey, who drained the open look. After tip-ins by Clemente and sophomore center Onnie Mayshak and several more three-pointers, the Crimson found itself up 14 points and on the verge of walking away with the game.
"We basically addressed the issue of defense," Sullivan said. "We couldn't have Northeastern shooting 50 percent from the floor."
Once the Crimson established the lead, Northeastern found it impossible to come within more than 10 points. The Huskies continued the abysmal rebounding, and Cranford went cold, scoring only two points the entire second half.
Meanwhile, Harvard's offense gained momentum. Clemente played almost the entire second half, stayed out of foul trouble and picked up 20 of his 24 points. He hit all three of his three-point attempts in the second half and finished with seven rebounds.
"I just got that rhythm," Clemente said. "Once a couple go down early, it gets easier."
Clemente also had plenty of offensive help from his teammates. Harvey lit it up in the second half, overcoming some early mistakes to finish with 23 points on 7-of-12 shooting, including 3-of-5 from three point land. In addition to sharp shooting from behind the arc, the Crimson also made 13 of its 14 second-half free throws, negating Northeastern attempts to slow the game down and creep back in contention.
Harvard's big men also neutralized the threat created by the Huskies' 6'10 center George Aygar. After a first-half interior defense that Prasse-Freeman described as "porous", Mayshak, sophomore forward Sam Winter and even 10th man Brian Sigafoos, a 6'10 JV call-up, got tough and won the battle of the paint. Harvard scored more points in the paint than Northeastern (20-14), and also limited the Huskies to four second-chance points.
Prasse-Freeman's 15 assists tied the record he set last February against Yale. Unlike the point guard's performance against the Bulldogs last season, however, last night he became the leader and the focus of the team when others faltered, and his assists were coupled with only three turnovers.
"Elliott basically told us to move around and he'd find us," Clemente said. Several big plays were set up by impressive, well-timed passes from Prasse-Freeman to Harvey.
The win was Harvard's second straight 20-point victory, following a 73-52 weekend victory over Lehigh. Sullivan was cautious, however, in showing too much enthusiasm.
"We still have a long way to go," Sullivan said. "We're still a 20-turnovers-a-game team, and that's not setting the tone for anything."
Harvard plays at Albany this Saturday night before returning home December 5th against Boston University.