The post-Cusworth era got off to an inauspicious beginning for the Harvard men’s basketball team on Friday night.
Playing in its first game without graduated 7’0 senior center Brian Cusworth, who was the team leader in points, rebounds, and blocks, the Crimson (9-10, 2-3) was blitzed by Columbia. The Lions (11-8, 2-3) entered Lavietes Pavilion hungry for a win after losing three of their first four league games, and exited with a 90-70 blowout victory.
“We knew they’d come in here tonight with their backs against the wall and angry,” Harvard coach Frank Sullivan said. “I’m not happy at all with the way that the team compensated for [Cusworth’s] loss.”
Right from the opening tip, it was apparent that Harvard was in for a long night. In place of Cusworth, 6’8 sophomore forward Evan Harris jumped at center court, and Columbia was able to easily control the ball. On the Lions’ second possession, point guard Brett Loscalzo nailed a three-pointer to start the game’s scoring, a shot that would prove to be a bad sign of things to come for the Crimson.
After building a 14-8 lead, Columbia carved out the victory by ripping off a 19-4 run. The Lions hit seven of eight shots during the stretch, including 5-of-5 from long range, to build an insurmountable 33-12 lead.
“We came out and we were scorching, there’s not much you can say about that,” guard Patrick Foley said. “We came out on fire.”
The Crimson never fired an answering salvo and never got closer than 15 points the rest of the evening.
Columbia closed the half with a 9-2 spurt to take a 54-28 lead into the break, then began the second period as it had the first, scoring the first six points on interior baskets from forwards John Baumann and Ben Nwachukwu to take a 32-point lead at 60-28.
Whether due to the full moon over Cambridge or an exceedingly porous Harvard defense, Columbia seemingly could not miss, especially from long distance. The Lions shot 13-of-23 from three-point range on the game—including a remarkable 11-of-13 showing in the first half—the most makes and best percentage Harvard has allowed all season.
For the game, Columbia converted field goals at a .571 clip, the second time in three games that the Crimson has allowed an opponent to shoot at least that well, and the 10th time in 19 games that Harvard’s opposition has shot at least 50 percent from the floor.
Columbia’s avalanche of a first half was keyed by two freshman guards, Foley and Niko Scott, who each shot 5-of-6 in the period to combine for 24 points. Scott hit all three of his attempts from deep in the half, and Foley, who came off the bench, hit his only attempt and added three assists.
“They’re two of the best freshmen in the league,” Sullivan said. “Anytime you see new freshmen, you can’t do justice to their real talent on film, and our guys really labored trying to get their understanding of who they were.”
The Lions, a smaller, agile team built for the transition game, were able to get out in the open floor and run the Crimson off the court in the first half. Utilizing Harvard’s multiple misses as fuel for the fast break—the Crimson shot just 8-of-26 in the opening period—the Lions rebounded the ball and quickly got it up court, opening up opportunities to drive to the basket for layups or kick the ball out for wide-open shots from behind the arc.
“We wanted to play more up-tempo, that was a big thing for us, to push the ball more,” Columbia coach Joe Jones said. “Our guys did a great job of running the floor.”
Overall, Columbia, which also forced 10 first-half turnovers to help feed its transition attack, had 10 fast-break points before halftime compared to zero for Harvard, and 19 points off turnovers to the Crimson’s four.
With the second half essentially twenty minutes of garbage time, Sullivan was able to get his crop of inexperienced freshmen into the game. Rookies Ndu Okereke, a guard, and Pat Magnarelli, a forward, both logged their first minutes and first points, and fellow frosh Alex Blankenau and Darryl Finkton, both guards, also scored their first points.
Harvard was led by captain Jim Goffredo, who scored a game-high 17 points on 5-of-14 shooting, while junior forward Brad Unger, starting in place of Cusworth, scored a career-high 16 points on 6-of-9 from the floor. Baumann, who scored 13 second-half points, finished with 17 on 7-of-8 from the field.
—Staff writer Caleb W. Peiffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.