Junior guard Jim Goffredo led Harvard with 22 points, a career high, but the Crimson still fell to the visiting Blue Devils.
It took a near-perfect performance to finally end the Harvard men’s basketball team’s perfect start.
Behind guard Justin Chirea’s 7-for-10 shooting from behind the arc, Central Connecticut State (CCSU) stormed past the Crimson (5-1) for an 87-79 victory on Saturday afternoon at Lavietes Pavilion.
“This was clearly going in the toughest opponent for us to guard, and that proved to be true,” Harvard coach Frank Sullivan said. “The thing that was most disconcerting to our guys is we couldn’t put our teeth into any of our top four objectives from the defensive standpoint—shut down the three point shooting, limit the conversion baskets, defensive rebounding, guard the dribbling.”
Chirea finished with a game-high 27 points and four assists, including a crucial banked three-pointer as the shot clock was set to expire that gave the Blue Devils (3-2) a 76-66 lead with 3:11 to go.
Harvard trailed the entire second half, but pulled within two on a 10-0 run that saw captain Matt Stehle knock down a trifecta and convert a three-point play, while junior guard Jim Goffredo stripped CCSU guard Lenny Jefferson and added an easy layup. Goffredo led the Crimson in scoring with a career-high 22 points, and Stehle posted 21 more along with 10 rebounds.
The Blue Devils responded with a 9-2 run of their own capped off by a Jefferson three-point play to give CCSU a 70-61 lead.
Harvard clawed back to within five with 1:39 remaining, as Stehle tipped in a missed Goffredo three-pointer to bring the score to 77-72.
The Blue Devils went 10-for-12 from the line over the final 76 seconds to seal the victory. CCSU attempted 31 shots from the stripe on the game and converted 22, compared to the Crimson’s 18 tries and 11 makes.
“That’s as early as any team has been in the bonus on us,” Sullivan said. “Central [Connecticut State] won the game at the free-throw line from there on in.”
Harvard led for most of the first half but took its final lead of the game on a layup by junior center Brian Cusworth with 3:33 left before the intermission. Chirea knocked down two threes and a layup during a 10-2 run by the Blue Devils that put his side up 39-32 with just under two minutes remaining in the half.
CCSU went 5-for-7 from three before the intermission and 4-of-9 after the break for a 56 percent performance from behind the arc on the day and his 2.7 average per contest is 27th best nationally.
Stehle and Cusworth battled foul trouble all day, and both finished with four fouls on the contest.
“With both Brian and Matt, when they get that fourth foul, they get very cautious,” Sullivan said.
Freshman point guard Drew Housman had his toughest day as a member of the Crimson, fouling out with just five points and two assists. Housman also went just 1-for-4 from the stripe, missing all three of his attempts short.
“They were in his shirt,” Sullivan said. “They made him work as hard as he had to work since he’s been in college. He’s not going to get every call like he did in high school, and he needs to understand that.”
“This is the first game that we’ve seen this kind of pressure,” Stehle said. “They did a good job getting on Drew, and we didn’t do a good enough job relieving the pressure for him.”
The Blue Devils got 16 points and 16 rebounds from forward Obie Nwadike, including eight boards on the offensive end.
“That was my matchup going into the game,” Stehle said. “It was my job to keep him off the offensive boards. Which I obviously didn’t do, and I take full responsibility for that. It was just a lack of effort, lack of toughness on my part. He’s an athletic kid and a good player, but he shouldn’t have gotten as many rebounds as he did.”
The loss was Harvard’s first in the three games played between the two squads.
“It’s disappointing,” Stehle said. “This was a game we could have won and should have won.”
—Staff writer Michael R. James can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.