The Crimson (4-6, 0-0 Ivy) jumped out to an early lead it never surrendered, besting the Blackbirds 78-60 in a rare road win.
Long Island (4-4, 1-0 Northeast) was consistently flummoxed by a tenacious Harvard defense that showed an uncustomary front which forced long shots and turnovers.
“I think the big thing that helped us was the zone defense,” Crimson coach Frank Sullivan said. “We haven't played that much zone in any game this season, but it just looked to be an effective way of approaching this game. I think the zone really jump-started us in a lot of ways.”
Harvard held the Blackbirds—a perimeter-oriented squad that usually starts three guards—to a meager 41.8 percent shooting from the floor and just 3-of-17 from behind the arc. On top of that, Long Island committed 22 turnovers, including a season-high 16 Crimson steals.
The Blackbirds’ leading scorer James Williams led all players with 16 points, but struggled at times, shooting 1-of-7 from long range.
While the new defensive strategy and another solid night on the backboards for the Ivy League’s leading rebounding team gave Harvard much of the possession, it fell to the offense to convert.
“Any time you're on the road, you're always worried, ‘are you going to score points?’” Sullivan said. “Offensively we got into a good rhythm.”
That pattern allowed the Crimson to build an early advantage, extending the margin to 24-12 after an 8-0 first-half run, and it went into the locker room with a comfortable 37-27 lead.
"We shot very well in the first half,” senior guard David Giovacchini said “We were focused on getting some passes deep and making the defense shift and that allowed us to get some easier and more open shots."
Harvard’s shooters knocked down the open looks, making a neat half of its scoring opportunities in the first half. The offensive attack on the night was balanced, as the Crimson had four players reach double figures, including Giovacchini, who added a season-high nine assists, five rebounds and four steals in an impressive all-around performance.
Junior forward Matt Stehle and captain Jason Norman tied for the team-best with 13 apiece. Norman scored all of his points in the second half, as Harvard pulled away with several spurts, extending its lead to as much as 24 at one point en route to the victory.
But perhaps the most pivotal contribution came from backup center Graham Beatty, who was filling in for the injured Brian Cusworth. Beatty provided 12 points—10 of those coming in the first half—and six rebounds along with a physical presence on the block that the Blackbirds couldn’t match.
“The bench really rose to the occasion,” Sullivan said. “Graham had a terrific first half and I think that really got us going.”
The Crimson’s backup outscored Long Island’s 23-14, with eight of those points coming from reserve forward Zach Martin, another player seeing increased minutes in Cusworth’s absence.
“They've done a really good job rebounding, playing hard and just providing energy which is most important to the team,” Giovacchini said of the bench.
The win is Harvard’s second in a row, and the third in its last four contests.
“Now we have two games in a row and we're building a little bit of momentum,” Giovacchini said. “[The win] is going to be a major building block for us.”
—Staff writer Jonathan J. Lehman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.