WORCESTER, MA—Despite a gallant comeback by the Harvard men’s basketball team, it could not pull out a victory, in large part because of the big contributions of Holy Cross’s two tallest frontcourt players, 6’11 senior Tim Clifford and 6’9 junior Alex Vander Baan.
Clifford finished with a game-high 22 points, matching his total from the Crusaders’ 82-69 win at Lavietes Pavilion last November. Vander Baan started by scoring Holy Cross’s first nine points and had a season-high 14 points by the end of the first half. He finished with 18.
“I thought there played exceptionally well upfront, and inside-and-out,” Crimson coach Tommy Amaker said. “And their big guy [Clifford], is just that, he’s big. They’re experienced, physical, strong, and finished around the goal much better than we did. I thought that was the difference in the game, their interior play”
Both players took advantage of their height advantage over a Harvard frontcourt still lacking captain Brad Unger. The tallest Crimson big man, 6’9 junior Evan Harris, was troubled by fouls throughout the game. The other frontcourt starter, 6’7 sophomore Pat Magnarelli, also had trouble matching up with the big men, as did two 6’7 reserves Harvard threw at its opponents—sophomore Doug Miller, and freshman Adam Demuyakor.
While Vander Baan took advantage of his size in the first half, it was Clifford the Crusaders went to late. 16 of his points came in the second half, mostly on lay-ups. His lay-up with 5:38 left broke a 62-62 tie, and Holy Cross would never give up the lead again.
Several of Clifford’s second-half buckets came when he was guarded by sophomore guard Jeremy Lin, who stands all of 6’2. The result of constant zone switching left the Crimson in some seriously compromising positions.
“A lot of times a big guy would have to step out and help, and I would have to rotate down and end up on Clifford,” Lin said. “Obviously that’s not an ideal match up. I was trying to use my quick-ins to get around him and be scrappy to get steals.”
The height advantage also gave Holy Cross a huge advantage on the boards. The hosts out-rebounded Harvard 33-23 and grabbed 15 offensive rebounds. At the end of the first half, the Crusaders had nine offensive boards, while the Crimson had just 10 total and only two on the offensive end.
Despite his height disadvantage, reserve forward Miller still put a strong performance in relief of Harris, putting up solid defense against Clifford and Vander Baan in the middle of the first half and early in the second period. His efforts won’t show in the box score—his line consists of one point, zero rebounds, and three fouls—but on the scoreboard. Only 7 of the tall duo’s 40 points came in the 12 minutes Miller was on the floor.
“I thought [Miller] gave us some tough minutes of the bench,” Amaker said. “We needed that. He had played as well as we wanted him to play up to this point, but I think tonight could be a really strong, positive step forward for him to do some positive things for us.”
For the third year in a row, a nail-biter between these two teams ended with a double-digit victory margin. Two years ago, Harvard held a 51-49 lead on the road with less than four minutes to play before pulling away for a 70-55 victory. Last year, the Crusaders returned the favor, breaking a 63-63 tie with four-and-a-half minutes to play at Lavietes and streaking away for the win...The victory was Holy Cross’s 20th straight at the Hart Center. 2562 fans were on hand to see it...The Crimson held the Crusaders to just 3-of-16 shooting from three-point range, an 18.8 percent mark, almost half what Holy Cross had been shooting entering the contest. Holy Cross entered the game shooting threes at a 35.6 percent rate.
—Staff writer Ted Kirby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.