Cusworth led the team with 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting from the field, but his defense and hustle plays were equally important for the Crimson, as Harvard topped Columbia 78-71.
Cusworth got off to a hot start and then turned it up another notch in the second half. In the first 90 seconds of the game, senior guard Kevin Rogus drilled a three-pointer, and Cusworth drew a charge on Columbia’s first possession. Then junior forward Matt Stehle went coast-to-coast and finished with a jump hook, and Cusworth blocked a shot from Lions guard Mack Montgomery.
Cusworth finished the first half with eight points and added to it early in the second period. He scored his team’s first five points of the frame, and recorded a monstrous rejection of a Brett Loscalzo jumper that helped shift momentum to the Crimson’s side.
For the game, Cusworth had four blocks and four steals. Most impressive for the big man was the fact that he drew four offensive fouls.
“One of the things that they do is just try to attack the basket hard and catch larger teams that are unsuspecting of their aggressiveness off guard,” Cusworth said.
At Columbia, Cusworth had a poor offensive showing, shooting just 1-for-6 from the field for five points. He did pull down 15 rebounds, but nevertheless had trouble handling the quicker, smaller post players who matched up against him.
“They do a tremendous job getting low, getting their footwork, and getting hands in passing lanes,” said Harvard coach Frank Sullivan of Columbia’s forwards. “They worked real hard both games trying to keep the ball away from Matt and Brian.”
“I thought that our guards did a great job in looking inside early, before the defense was able to reestablish its position,” Cusworth added.
On paper, captain Jason Norman was essentially a non-factor in the contest, but the box score fails to reveal a solid all-around performance that helped lead Harvard to victory.
In 34 minutes, Norman shot just 1-for-4 from the field for three points, to go along with three rebounds and two assists. As is often the case with Norman, his contribution was far greater than his stat line suggested.
Norman’s solid defense on Lions star forward Matt Preston was a key to the win. Stehle started the game on Preston, but the assignment switched to Norman when Columbia went to a big lineup that relegated its leading scorer to the perimeter.
“I think Jason did a great job of stepping up,” Cusworth said. “Jason is our go-to guy in locking up the best perimeter players, and he did a great job in assisting us in that situation.”
Preston scored 12 points but shot just 3-for-10 from the field.
Though most of Norman’s positive play consisted of relative intangibles, Norman got the attention of the entire crowd when he slammed the dagger into Columbia’s heart. Cusworth rebounded a missed free throw and fired the ball cross-court to a wide-open Norman, who caught the ball and threw down a spectacular two-hand reverse jam to electrify the crowd and give the Crimson a 65-58 lead with 3:45 remaining.