Stehle, Cusworth Strong in Opening Scrimmage for M. Hoops

BALLS OF STEHLE
Joseph L. Abel

Junior Matt Stehle was in midseason form in Harvard's exhibition win over McMasters, scoring 21 points and pulling down 11 rebounds.

It took no more than a passing glance at the Lavietes Pavilion scoreboard during halftime of the Crimson’s exhibition game against McMaster University (Can.) to realize that something had changed with the Harvard men’s basketball program.

Last year, the Crimson entered its first game with just one player on its roster having ever started a game. This year, Harvard had two such players beginning the game on the bench.

And the experience showed, as the Crimson jumped out to a 49-28 halftime lead and coasted to the finish for a 75-62 win.

Trailing 10-4 early in the first half, Harvard put together an 18-3 run to build a comfortable nine point lead. After the Marauders cut that lead to four, the Crimson outscored McMaster 27-6 over a 12-minute span to take a 49-24 lead with 1:05 left in the half.

“I didn’t think we played tough in the first half,” Harvard coach Frank Sullivan said. “Universally, I think the team was disappointed with the way we came out...We had a decent lead, but I don’t think we were really pleased with how we were playing.”

The Marauders clawed their way back into the game in the second half, using a 7-0 run to close the Crimson lead to just 11 with 2:03 remaining. But Harvard got a couple quick buckets to claim a 75-60 advantage and seal the victory.

RIGHT ON POINT

One of the most prevalent themes last season was the poor assist-to-turnover ratio recorded in nearly every contest.

For a team which had relied on tremendous point guard play from Elliott Prasse-Freeman ’03 and Tim Hill ’99, the lack of a true point guard crippled the Crimson last season, as the squad committed nearly two turnovers for every one assist.

Against McMaster, once again the assist-to-turnover ratio was a problem as Harvard recorded just eight assists, but committed 20 turnovers. Six of those eight assists came from junior forward Matt Stehle and sophomore center Brian Cusworth, while none of the three point guards—junior Michael Beal, senior David Giovacchini and freshman Tyler Klunick—managed to register even one.

“The thing we were most disappointed in was the volume of assists from our three perimeter spots,” Sullivan said. “We’re letting the four and five man handle the ball a bit more this year and create passing angles that will allow them to finish plays off this year, but still assist-turnover ratio as a team was bad. It doesn’t reflect any improvement over where we were last season, and most significantly the one, two and three men are not generating many assists at all.”

THE TWIN TOWERS

With the return of Cusworth, who sat out last season with a nagging foot injury, the frontcourt has gone from a weakness to a definite strength.

Cusworth contributed 14 points and seven rebounds and Stehle added 21 and 11, respectively, as the two big men asserted themselves in the paint. The most impressive part of their performance had to be the execution of the high-low game, which appeared to be in mid-season form.

Five of their combined six assists led directly to a layup for the other, making up for the relatively poor showing by the guards in that category.

“The strength of our team is with [Stehle and Cusworth],” Sullivan said. “We have to look at those two on offense more than we have looked at those positions in the past. We weren’t real happy with how much it went in to the post today, but that’s something that just absolutely has to happen for us.”

DOWNRIGHT DEFENSIVE

While the overall team defensive effort may not have been where the squad would have liked, some of the key indicators show that this Crimson team has made some improvements on that side of the floor.

Harvard held McMaster to just 33.9 percent shooting from the field and 31.8 percent from behind the arc. Last year, the Crimson finished last in the league in scoring defense (76.6 points per game) and field goal percentage allowed (46.6 percent).

“Overall structurally, I wasn’t happy with the defense,” Sullivan said. “Was I happy with the field goal percentage [allowed]? Sure. Was I happy with 12 steals? Sure. Just overall, I wasn’t comfortable, because I feel it wasn’t as solid a performance [as it could have been]. But there was a bit of a gap, because we didn’t have a scouting report due to the exhibition setting.”

The combination of Klunick and sophomore guard Jim Goffredo proved especially proficient at pressuring the opposing ball handlers and forcing turnovers. The duo combined for five steals on the afternoon, including one which led directly to a Klunick layup—his only two points of the contest.

But even when they weren’t creating turnovers, they were forcing the Marauders to move the ball up the floor slowly, draining six to nine seconds of the shot clock before McMaster could even get across half court and get its offense set up.

“In the first half, Tyler was able to pressure the ball a little bit better than we were getting before, and the energy level picked up,” Sullivan said. “And Jimmy has done the same thing from time to time. While they’re small, they both have the ability to guard the ball really hard, especially dribblers.”

—Staff writer Michael R. James can be reached at mrjames@fas.harvard.edu.

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