After a brutal five-game Ivy League stretch on the road that lasted nearly a month, the Harvard men’s basketball team (6-16, 1-5 Ivy) finally returns home this weekend. The going will likely remain tough as the Crimson plays host to two New York Ivy League foes, Cornell and Columbia.
After its lone Ivy League bright spot this season, a league-opening victory over Dartmouth at home in early January, the Harvard men have suffered through five straight Ivy League defeats away from Cambridge. Among them was a 13-point loss at the hands of rival Yale, and a 20-point setback against a solid Brown team last weekend.
“It’s definitely been a while and we’ve always played well at home,” junior forward Evan Harris said. “Hopefully we can get back on track this weekend.”
Harvard will likely have to be at its best to emerge from this weekend with a pair of victories, as Cornell and Columbia are both coming off home weekend sweeps over Princeton and Penn.
Cornell (14-5, 6-0 Ivy), the preseason Ivy League favorite, has been on an absolute tear of late, currently riding an eight game winning streak and sitting alone at the top of league standings. The Big Red is paced by second-year standouts Ryan Wittman and Louis Dale.
Wittman, the son of former NBA guard Randy Wittman, last year’s Ivy League Rookie of the Year, was recently awarded Ivy League Player of the Week honors for his averages of 22.5 points and seven boards in Cornell’s two weekend victories.
He sits at third in the Ancient Eight in scoring at 15.7 points per contest and is knocking down the three-ball at an astounding 50.8 percent clip. He leads the league in three-pointers made per game at 3.21.
While Wittman represents a formidable deep threat for the Big Red, Cornell also boasts the Ivy League leader in assists—five per contest—and free-throw percentage—95 percent—in 5’11 guard Dale.
The Crimson will have to find a way to stop this dynamic duo that leads the league’s best offense at 76.5 points per game. Cornell’s defense is not so shabby either.
The Big Red has held opponents to just 38 percent shooting and 59.6 points per game over its last 11 contests.
“I think it’s going to be a heck of a challenge for us,” Amaker said. “A lot of teams in our league so far have fared better at home, and I hope that we can continue that trend.”
The Crimson would likely benefit from fewer turnovers and improved work on the offensive glass, two key components of its game that hurt the team this past weekend. Amaker said he believes that these aspects of Harvard’s game “are the two things that we focus on, we talk about, we teach, we preach,“ but we will have to wait and see how the Crimson can execute against the Big Red tonight.
While two of Columbia’s (10-11, 3-3 Ivy) losses have come to the aforementioned league leader, Cornell, Harvard must ensure that they do not take the game against the Lions lightly.
Senior forward John Baumann, a first team All-Ivy League performer from last year, leads the Lions into Cambridge with 15 points per game, good enough for fourth in the Ivies, while pulling down 6.4 boards per game, second most in the Ivy League.
“He’s an inside-outside player,” Amaker said of Baumann. “So he’s a bit more of a tougher match up in that regard because he scores in a variety of different ways.”
Ivy League play has been rough on the Crimson so far this season, but Harvard has a chance to put an end to its league troubles by knocking off two of the hottest teams in the Ancient Eight in one weekend.
“Certainly we’re hopeful that getting home this weekend will give us an opportunity to play better,” Amaker said. “And we’ll see if we can have one of the hotter teams in the country [Cornell] come in here and see if we can do a decent job, which we’ve done in the past right here.”