Life of Brian: Speed 'D' Keep Harvard From Zoning Out

If speed kills, then consider quickness the cause of death for Northeastern last night at Lavietes Pavilion.

Quick is exactly what the Harvard basketball team was against the Huskies—quick on defense, quick in transition and, most importantly, quick on the uptake.

The Crimson was quick getting out of the gate as well. A three-pointer by junior guard Patrick Harvey with 7:22 left to play in the first half put Harvard ahead by 19. But then Northeastern threw the Crimson a curveball when it switched up its team defense from man-to-man to a zone. The change allowed Northeastern to stop the bleeding on defense and eventually set up a 14-5 Huskie run to start the second half.

“Once they went to the zone, we weren’t moving a lot on offense,” Harvey said. “We were too much perimeter-oriented and just settling for the jump shot rather than taking it in and getting it down low.”

After the game, Harvard Coach Frank Sullivan admitted Harvard hasn’t had much experience going against a zone this season. In fact, they haven’t even had a chance to rehearse for it.

“It’s really just a [matter of] lack of practice time,” Sullivan said. “We went through 10 days with nine guys because we had so many injuries. It’s hard to play against a zone [without having five-on-five]. We really haven’t had much time other than game preparation to work against the zone and watch film. Hopefully in the next couple weeks we’ll find some time.”

It was a night of adjusting on the fly for the Crimson, who were challenged again when Northeastern starting applying the press near the end of the first half. Harvard, though, was able to respond.

With just under five minutes left before halftime, Harvey broke free of the Huskies’ swarm and flung a pass upcourt to Tim Coleman, who dunked it home.

The Huskies would continue to apply pressure in the second half, but the Crimson kept its poise, adding a couple more baskets off the fast break. In time, Harvard found a way to score in spite of the Northeastern zone. Harvey, who had 13 first-half points, was limited to just one field goal try in the second half. But that didn’t stop him from consistently driving the line to draw the foul. After getting to the line just once in the first half, Harvey finished the game 9-of-10 from the line.

As Harvard’s ball movement improved, the Crimson found seams through the Husky defense. At points during the second half, the half-court offense was generating five or six touches each trip down the floor. Harvard had assists on two-thirds of its baskets, including a career-high eight by Gellert, who found junior forward Sam Winter on a pretty back-door pass early in the second half.

Winter chipped in eight points on 4-of-7 shooting. Not to be outdone, Coleman registered yet another double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Both Winter and Coleman provided a soft scoring touch from outside the paint last night. Each also hit big shots in the final minute of Harvard’s comeback win over Lehigh last weekend.

“Being able to bring the big men out really helps. They can step out and hit the threes. That really opens up our offense,” Harvey said.

On a night when Harvard’s aggressiveness won out, Gellert was once again Harvard’s sparkplug. In addition to his eight assists, Gellert added seven points, seven boards and four steals. He also made arguably the biggest play of the game when he grabbed an offensive rebound off his own missed free throw, then chucked a pass to Harvey, who sank a three in the game’s final minute.

“We get great leadership from Gellert,” Sullivan said. “His personality is starting to rub off on the rest of the team. He’s probably one of the most competitive guys we’ve had here in a long time.”

Harvey’s basket gave Harvard some breathing room after Northeastern had narrowed the gap to three. The Harvard defense then held strong in the final minute, as it had the entire game. Before last night, Harvard had held its opponents to under 40 percent from the field and through the first half against Northeastern, the Crimson held the Huskies to 34 percent.

“We made up for [the trouble scoring] with some defense,” Sullivan said. “This was one of the best defensive efforts of the year.”

Harvard also made sure to deny Northeastern much in the way of second-chance points. The Crimson outrebounded Northeastern 25-7 on the defensive end.

“One of the big things we talked about the past couple days was their offensive rebounding potential,” Sullivan said. “That was our major concern going into it. We got almost 80 percent of the defensive boards. That’s one of our best defensive rebounding efforts of the year.”

Of course, Northeastern was a smaller team than Harvard, and that’s saying a lot. The Huskies’ tallest player was 6’7.

But Harvard has speed and athleticism and that can go a long way. Especially when it comes to handling suprises like Northeastern’s zone defense last night. Of course, five-on-five practices shouldn’t hurt, either.

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