The five-game winning streak that got everyone talking has faded to a rather pedestrian 5-3 mark.
And if the Harvard men’s basketball team hopes to turn it around tomorrow night against Long Island (2-3), it will once again have to do so without junior center Brian Cusworth.
Cusworth’s fractured left hand will definitely keep him out of the game against the Blackbirds, as well as Saturday’s showdown with highly-touted mid-major Albany. From there, the seven-footer’s status will depend on another visit to the doctors.
"He was re-evaluated [Monday], and the doctor said he has to wait another week," Harvard coach Frank Sullivan said. "The doctor felt he needed another week because it was still a little tender, so it appears he won't be playing this week."
The Crimson has lost both of the games that Cusworth missed (at Boston University and Lehigh), as well as the contest in which he got injured—a 87-79 loss to Central Connecticut that snapped Harvard’s season-opening five-game winning streak.
The Crimson has been knocked around inside in Cusworth’s absence and hasn’t been able to get the production in the post that it is used to. Opposing defenses have noticed this interior weakness and have expended more resources on the perimeter, pressuring guards Jim Goffredo and Drew Housman, as well as swingman Michael Beal.
The result is an offense that has looked lost at times and has seen its field goal percentage drop demonstrably in the past two games. Add to that a few bad rebounding games and some poor shooting from the line, and the losses start to pile up.
"[Rebounding] is another thing we're having trouble with, particularly on the defensive end," Harvard captain Matt Stehle said. "Going into the season that was one of our strengths, and we need to get back to that."
The key to the matchup with Long Island will be guard play. Lehigh’s duo of Kyle Neptune and Jose Olivero torched the Crimson perimeter defense, combining for 39 points in the Mountain Hawks’ 67-56 win. The Blackbirds boast two standout guards of their own—James Williams and Randy Jones—who together average 26 points a game, and more importantly have combined to hit 41 percent of their threes on the season.
"It's always an adjustment whenever you play teams that are capable of shooting the three, because -- we saw this with Central [Connecticut] -- they'll take them when you don't expect them," Sullivan said.
"If we don't shut down the three, we're not going to win," Stehle said. "We've given up 50 percent from three over the past two games, and you won't beat anyone in any league -- high school, YMCA or 60-and-over leagues -- if people are shooting 50 percent from three against you."
Williams and Jones chipped in 16 and 13 points, respectively, in last year’s 78-60 home loss to the Crimson.
"The common thread in our three losses has been defending guard play and specifically guarding three-point shots," Sullivan said. "So this is a very big game for us to get back on track."
The good news for the Harvard interior players is that the battle of the boards should be theirs for the taking. Long Island has been out-rebounded in every game this season by an average of 15 boards a game.
A solid performance on the glass in this contest should provide the Crimson with a boost heading into Saturday’s game against Albany.
NOTES: John Feinstein will be at Lavietes Pavilion signing copies of his new book Next Man Up in the Lavietes Pavilion Lounge during the hour before tip-off of the Harvard-Long Island game. The event is free, and The COOP will have copies of the book for purchase.
—Staff writer Michael R. James can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.