PROVIDENCE—In Saturday night’s disheartening 71-51 loss to Brown at the Pizzatola Sports Center, Harvard’s two leading scorers were...sophomore guard Alek Blankenau and freshman forward Kyle Fitzgerald. Not exactly the expected 1-2 scoring punch for a key Ivy League road game.
Blankenau, known for his long-range shooting, entered the game in the second half, when the Bears had already taken a commanding lead, and poured in a career-high 14 points in just 14 minutes of action.
The Nebraska native connected on four of eight attempts from three-point land and added a pair of free throws to quickly surpass his previous best of seven points. He also chipped in three rebounds and two assists.
“I thought Alek was tremendous and it was a good game for him to play in because they play a lot of zone,” coach Tommy Amaker said. “Alek is a very good shooter and we found him and he made those open shots.”
Fitzgerald matched his collegiate best with 10 points, contributing eight of the Crimson’s 20 points in the paint, and yanked down a career-high seven rebounds, including four offensive boards. And Fitzgerald logged 24 minutes of court time, the most of any of the squad’s post players.
“I thought Kyle played very well, which he normally does with great hustle and intensity,” Amaker said. “He’s given us that kind of spirit and energy off the bench when he’s been in there.”
Meanwhile, the veteran inside-out combo of Drew Housman and Evan Harris, the team’s top two returning scorers, continued their midseason slump. Housman, returning to the starting lineup after six games relieving rookie T.J. Carey, who was sidelined with a head injury, struggled, managing only two points and committing four turnovers. After scoring in double digits in 12 of his first 14 games, Housman hasn’t topped eight since.
“I’m hopeful he will [get it going],” Amaker said of Housman. “Drew is a veteran and we need his leadership and his solid play.”
Harris, just one night after tallying a career-high 23 points in a loss to Yale, remained inconsistent, scoring two points and declining to attempt a field goal.
With its season on the line—five Ivy losses virtually disqualify a team from contending for the conference title—Harvard, led by its junior core of Housman, Harris, and Andrew Pusar, played a woeful first half offensively and defensively, spotting the Bears a 37-16 cushion. The Crimson shot just 22 percent from the floor and logged one assist against eight turnovers, while Brown converted field goals at a 56 percent clip.
The team’s youngsters, most notably Blankenau and Fitzgerald, helped to keep the deficit in the 20-point range down the stretch.
“We dug ourselves a deep hole—I was pleased with the kids who played part of the minutes in the second half,” Amaker said. “I thought they battled and competed and showed some life and some signs of valuing their playing time.”
With Brown sticking to the zone defense that stifled Harvard in the early going, Blankenau had space to operate on the perimeter. So did his teammates, but they were just 3-for-21 from deep, including a 2-for-10 night from sophomore Dan McGeary and a 1-for-5 effort by classmate Jeremy Lin. Fitzgerald gave the Crimson some much-needed toughness and hustle inside.
“It was good to see them come off, they played well, they played hard, and they were hungry,” captain Brad Unger said. “They gave us a shot in the arm, and that’s what we needed at that point.”
But as much as the youngsters prize their minutes, they were only available because the Crimson faltered in their fifth straight Ancient Eight contest, and dropped their 14th road game in 15 tries.
“Obviously, winning is paramount,” Blankenau said. “But when your number gets called you have to be ready no matter what the situation is.”
—Staff writer Jonathan Lehman can be reached at email@example.com.