NOTEBOOK: Men's Basketball Frontcourt Seeking Identity

PROVIDENCE, R.I.—The absence of center Brian Cusworth continues to haunt the Harvard men’s basketball team.

Six games after the graduated 7’0 center packed his bags for the final time, the Crimson continued its search for a consistent interior presence on Friday night in a 70-66 loss to Brown at the Pizzatola Sports Center.

Harvard’s frontcourt rotation—which now runs only four deep thanks to Cusworth’s absence and the heart ailment that will shelve sophomore forward Kenyon Churchwell for the rest of the season—combined for only 14 points on 5-of-13 shooting and committed 11 fouls.

Although the big men put together one of their stronger rebounding performances of the season, helping the Crimson maintain a 12-board edge over the Bears, the lack of any sort of back-to-the-basket offensive attack was fatal. With no way to slow down their own offense by pounding the ball inside, Harvard was forced to speed its game up to match Brown’s quick-tempo attack, allowing it to comfortably dictate the pace of the contest.

Sophomore Evan Harris, who looked like he was beginning to break out when he scored 18 points and hauled in 11 rebounds in a win against Cornell two weekends ago, had only five points on three shots. It appeared as if the Bears had scouted Harris perfectly—they routinely overplayed the sophomore to his dominant left hand, forcing Harris to beat them with his weak right, which he was unable to do.

“If you’re doing your homework, you know what guys’ tendencies are,” Brown coach Craig Robinson said. “So we try and force guys into doing things they’re not as comfortable doing.”

Harris, who got into early foul trouble and did not attempt a shot in 12 first-half minutes, received little help from his fellow starter in the frontcourt, Brad Unger. An unconventional three-point specialist at 6’8, Unger had showed signs in several games since Cusworth’s absence of adding an interior post-up game to his repertoire. Against Brown, however, Unger spent most of his time on offense at the top of the key, and although he hit his only long-range attempt, he missed all four of his shots from inside the arc and committed four turnovers.

“I don’t think we were at all together in terms of the spacing between the high- and low-post players,” Harvard coach Frank Sullivan said. “We had no inside component to our zone offense. Our inside became beating guys off the dribble more than it became feeding the ball into the low post. They were effective defensively swarming into the low-post area.”

Without any interior presence to speak of, the bulk of the pressure to bring Harvard back from its second-half deficit was placed on the shoulders of the Crimson’s two standout guards, captain Jim Goffredo and sophomore Drew Housman. But the Bears defense was able to load up on the perimeter without worrying about being hurt down low, especially after it had decoded Harvard’s offensive attack in the second half.

Goffredo shot 4-of-7 overall and 3-of-4 from three-point range in the first half, and after he knocked down his first two threes after halftime, it looked like the senior shooting guard was heading to another performance like last year’s at Brown, when he shot 8-of-10 from three-point range and finished with 30 points. But Goffredo faced significantly amplified pressure down the stretch, and did not hit again from the floor, misfiring on the final six shots he took.

ON THE RISE

Friday night was another impressive exhibit in the season-long display of Brown guard Mark McAndrew’s multiple basketball talents. The 6’2 junior from Barrington, R.I., is looking like the Ivy League’s most improved player this year, and he bolstered that notion by scoring 19 points and grabbing five rebounds against Harvard. McAndrew leads all scorers in Ivy play, averaging 20.2 points in league contests after Friday night, a 6-of-9 performance which upped his shooting percentage in league games to .571, a remarkably high figure for a guard.

“You look at the stats and you think he had a good game, but for him, it wasn’t a good game,” Robinson said of McAndrew, who did commit four costly turnovers. “Isn’t that something that now, all of a sudden, 6-for-9 isn’t good enough for this kid? I like the fact that he was mad because he thought he didn’t play well.”

McAndrew produced the game’s signature moment late in the second half in a play that demonstrated his superior athleticism. Swooping in from the left wing towards the basket, McAndrew hung in the air underneath the hoop to avoid Harris, and then executed a remarkably acrobatic reverse layup, flipping the ball through the hoop while being fouled. The conversion from the free-throw line gave Brown a 65-52 lead with 4:52 left, effectively sealing the victory for the Bears.

—Staff writer Caleb W. Peiffer can be reached at cpeiffer@fas.harvard.edu.

Tags