For a team that has been out-scored by 35 points in the first half, is off to its worst start in over a decade and is taking on a team that trounced its last opponent 82-58, it would seem that things are a little bleak.
But don’t tell that to the Harvard men’s basketball team.
“We’re bound to get our first win against Lehigh. I’m sure about that,” said sophomore forward Matt Stehle.
Even a former member of the Crimson echoed this surprising confidence.
“I don’t think that there is anything wrong with this team,” said former captain Brady Merchant ’03.
It seems Stehle’s and Merchant’s confidence in the team’s chances of picking up that elusive first win when it hosts the Mountain Hawks (2-3) tonight at 7 p.m. comes from the fact that the Crimson (0-4) has improved in several key statistical categories throughout its tough losses.
In the season opener against Fairfield Harvard shot only 33.9 percent from the field, but managed to knock down 45.2 percent of its field goals against Maine on Tuesday.
Harvard’s turnover-to-assist ratio has also improved. While hovering around two-to-one in its first three games, the ratio was nearly one-to-one against Maine.
The games have also given the team some much needed help in finalizing certain players’ roles on the team. Stehle has emerged as the Crimson’s go-to man in the front court after recording his first career double-double on Tuesday, and is now second on the team in rebounds (23) and points (48).
Stehle has also proven himself as a dominant force on the defensive side, recording nine blocked shots. The rest of the squad has four blocked shots combined.
Harvard has been given time to iron out its unpredictable point guard situation, as sophomore Michael Beal—who leads the team in assists (15) and rebounds (27)—has established himself as the principal player. Junior David Giovacchini had originally started at the point in the team’s exhibition game against St. Francis-Xavier, but has since seen his time on the court dwindle, and saw only two minutes of action against the Black Bears.
“Mike right now is obviously our best point guard,” said assistant coach Bill Holden, who scouted Lehigh for the Crimson.
Despite these improvements, Harvard must correct its streak of weak first-half performances in order to shut down the Mountain Hawks and their explosive point guard Austen Rowland.
“He gets most of his baskets on conversions,” Holden said of Rowland. “He’s very explosive and creates a lot of opportunities. We just have to keep him in front of us.”
Rowland currently averages 29.4 minutes, 13.2 points and four assists per game—all tops for Lehigh.
Such impressive numbers are troubling for the Crimson considering its problems handling talented guards so far this season. Maine’s Kevin Reed, who averages 18.8 points per game, knocked down 36 points against Harvard. New Hampshire’s Ronnie Dennis had similar success, scoring 26 points against the Crimson although he averages just 14.8 points per game.
Part of the reason Harvard has had so much trouble containing these guards has been the style of defense it has had to play. Even though the Crimson’s 2-2-1 zone has been effective—particularly in the second half of the Holy Cross game—Harvard had few opportunities to use it against UNH and Maine, since it went down by so much early in the game and had to use a more aggressive man-to-man defense. While more advantageous in creating turnovers and pressure situations, this style of play has allowed opposing guards to quickly open up scoring chances before any of the other Crimson defenders could move in to help.
Still, Beal feels that there is a simpler answer to work out Harvard’s defensive kinks.
“It just has to get to that point, especially for the guards, where we say, ‘Enough is enough, and we are not going to let people score,’” Beal said. “There’s no gimmicks that we haven’t tried and there’s nothing new that we’re going to put in in terms of our defense.”
But if Harvard is unable to turn the corner against the Mountain Hawks, it will mark only the second time that the Crimson has dropped the first five games of the year since the 1975-76 season.
—Staff writer Evan R. Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.