As the Harvard men’s basketball team stepped on the floor Friday night to take on Fairfield, the numerous question marks surrounding the young team began to find some concrete answers.
The Crimson’s exhibition game provided a sneak peek into Harvard coach Frank Sullivan’s thinking, but even after that contest, he remained unsure of how he would approach the season.
After Friday’s game, it appears that Sullivan has a clearer picture of who will shoulder the load for this inexperienced squad.
“The biggest thing—because we went in with so much unknown of our team—I think our guys have some confidence they can play,” Sullivan said.
However, though Harvard found answers to a few of its most burning questions, it appears that more unknowns have arisen that must be dealt with for this team to be successful.
Who’s on First?
Coming into the season opener, no one knew for sure who the starting five would be this season.
Sullivan decided to begin the game with two sophomores—guard Michael Beal and forward Matt Stehle—and three juniors—captain Jason Norman, guard Kevin Rogus and forward Graham Beatty.
Four players—Rogus, Beal, Norman and Stehle—spent at least 30 minutes on the floor. Beal led the way with 35.
Sullivan made good use of his bench, as nine players saw nine or more minutes.
“It’s probably as many players as we’ve played in a game in a while, so I think the guys saw that we have some depth on the team,” Sullivan said.
The Crimson substitutes registered 16 points on the night, including a crucial three-pointer by freshman guard Jim Goffredo that jump-started a Harvard team that fell behind 13-2 out of the gate. Sophomore forward Zach Martin also added a big three before halftime to tie the score at 25 after the Crimson had trailed the entire first half.
Nine minutes into Friday night’s game, Harvard had only recorded two points—those coming on a jumper by Beal.
“We’re not happy about [the low field-goal percentage], but a lot of that came in the first 10 minutes of the game,” Beal said.
The offense found its rhythm and went on to score 60 points on the night, but the underlying indicators of offensive productivity were not so positive.
“In the second half, we started to pick it up,” Beal said. “We’re a new team, so everyone has butterflies in their stomach coming out...and also their up-tempo style of defense made us take a lot of shots we weren’t used to taking.”
The Crimson shot an anemic 25.7 percent from the field in the first half and 33.9 percent on the game.
Beatty and Stehle made only three field goals combined while taking 16 shots. Rogus contributed a solid performance from three-point range, netting three in seven attempts. However, he couldn’t continue that performance inside the arc, going zero-for-five.
In addition to the poor field-goal percentage, Harvard went three-for-seven from the free-throw line in the first half. The Crimson responded by converting 11-of-15 attempts in the second half, but the 63.6 percentage for the game is one that must concern Sullivan.
A Few Big Men
With the absence of sophomore center Brian Cusworth, defending the interior has become a major concern for Harvard.
Fairfield outscored the Crimson 28-16 in the paint, but that stat can be misleading as many of those points for both teams came on penetration from the perimeter and not from the low post.
The Harvard inside combination of sophomore forward Luke McCrone, Stehle and Beatty held their own against potent Stag forwards Deng Gai and Rob Thomson for most of the game.
But Stehle and Beatty found themselves in foul trouble down the stretch, limiting their freedom on defense. Thomson took advantage, scoring six points in a 93-second span and single-handedly shifting the momentum back to Fairfield.
The Crimson front court also had an extremely difficult time rebounding. The Stags front-court combo of Gai and Thomson grabbed 24 boards on the game, recording as many on the offensive end—10—as the Crimson trio of Stehle, Beatty and McCrone registered overall.
“[We] just didn’t get the defensive boards that we wanted,” Sullivan said. “We have to shoot for 70 percent of the defensive boards. Fifty’s not going to be good enough. It was 56.”
Harvard had essentially no interior game, as the three forwards scored a total of 14 points while taking 22 shots.
—Staff writer Michael R. James can be reached at email@example.com