The occupants of Lavietes Pavilion did a collective double take as the public address announcer introduced the Harvard starters before tip-off on Saturday afternoon. Where was Brian Cusworth, the sophomore center who leads the Crimson in scoring (15.3 points per game) and is second on the team in rebounding (9.9 per contest)?
Cusworth was on the bench, it turns out, and would be for the entire game. The seven-footer fractured the thumb of his left hand in Tuesday night’s loss to Fairfield, and was not available to provide his customary inside presence against Lehigh (4-5).
But the other members of the Crimson (3-6) stepped up to fill the large void in the middle, as Harvard still managed to outrebound the Mountain Hawks 44-31 in the Crimson’s 67-56 victory.
“The players knew they had to do the rebounding today,” Harvard coach Frank Sullivan said, “and there were certainly plenty of rebounds to be had.”
Both teams shot poorly from the field—Harvard’s 37.5 percent mark just edged Lehigh’s 34.6—so controlling the boards was especially important. Sophomore forward Matt Stehle led the way for Harvard with 13 rebounds, increasing his average to 10.2 per game, 13th best in the country. Senior center Graham Beatty, who filled in for Cusworth, hauled in nine rebounds of his own.
“Graham came in and did what he felt he had to do, and that was rebound the basketball,” Sullivan said. “Anything that he did in terms of scoring was just going to be extra.”
In Cusworth’s absence, Sullivan emphasized the necessity of getting to the free-throw line, and the Crimson responded. Harvard shot 29 free throws on the afternoon, making 21, both highs on the young season. The guards were particularly adept at slashing to the hoop and drawing contact, as senior guard Kevin Rogus went 4-of-5 from the charity stripe on the afternoon, while sophomore Jim Goffredo hit 7-of-9 free throws coming off the bench.
“Something that we had been talking about…was to get our [guards] to attack the basket more overall, and I thought they did it,” Sullivan said. “We finally did get to the line.”
Stehle, who coming into the game was only 23-of-40 (57.5 percent) from the stripe was able to connect on 5 of his 6 free throw attempts. Captain Jason Norman went to the line five times, and hit three freebies.
“One thing coach said was to try and attack the basket, and finish stronger, and we were trying to do that,” said senior point guard David Giovacchini. “I think all around everyone tried to step it up today.”
Norman had an outstanding all-around game, by far his best of the year. He scored 13 points on an economical 5-for-7 from the floor and also grabbed seven rebounds, both season-highs.
“[It was] a quality game for Jason in all respects,” Sullivan said. “That might be one of Jason’s best games at Harvard. He rebounded the ball. He scored. He drove to the basket.”
But it was the effort from Norman that won’t show up in the box score that was perhaps most important in Harvard’s victory. Norman was assigned on defense to Lehigh’s best player, guard Jose Olivero, who came into the game averaging 15.2 points a game and 17.8 in his last five. Olivero scored a season-high 24 points last year against the Crimson in Lehigh’s 88-79 win in Pennsylvania. This time around, however, Norman held the sophomore standout to only eight points on 3-of-13 shooting, while forcing five turnovers.