What had been billed as a pivotal matchup for the Harvard men’s basketball team turned out to be a blowout—at least after halftime.
Following eight winless years against its crosstown rival, the Crimson (6-2) made it two victories in a row over Boston University (4-7) Saturday afternoon, using a strong second-half effort to defeat the Terriers, 87-71. A crowd of 1,487 saw six players reach double-digit scoring for Harvard, which improved to a perfect 5-0 record at home and has won its last 13 non-conference matchups at Lavietes.
The latest entry in the win column had its outcome decided early in the second half, during which the Crimson managed to shoot a blistering 71.4 percent from the field.
With 17 minutes remaining, BU tied it up at 43-all on a baseline jumper by senior star John Holland, who led his squad with a game-high 21 points. But on the other end of the floor, sophomore guard Christian Webster quickly responded with a right-wing triple for three of his 18 points, a team high. The swingman gave the Crimson a lead it would not relinquish, as the team then proceeded to flex its offensive muscle and blow the game wide open.
Harvard received buckets from seven different players to erupt on a 29-7 run in the next nine minutes of play.
“I thought we defended much better in the second half,” Crimson coach Tommy Amaker said. “I thought we defended, and I thought we got up the floor...we gave ourselves some open looks and moved the basketball...those things lead to points and lead to positive possessions.”
Backcourt starters sophomore Brandyn Curry (10 points) and junior co-captain Oliver McNally (11) each buried crucial shots from behind the arc during the stretch, while rookie Laurent Rivard (15) came off the bench to hit jumpers from all over the floor.
And junior co-captain Keith Wright, turning in his fourth double-double of the year with 17 points and 10 rebounds, topped it all off with a layup to give Harvard a 72-50 advantage with 8:20 left. His team’s lead would not fall below 16 the rest of the way. The sixth player in double figures was perhaps the most unlikely. Starting for the first time in his career, junior big man Andrew Van Nest made the most of the opportunity given to him.
“I thought he performed very well,” Amaker said. “We thought we needed to give our team a little shot...and I liked how it turned out for us today.”
In 23 minutes of action, the 6’11” forward collected 13 points—surpassing his previous career high of nine—and five rebounds and made his defensive presence felt on the interior.
“I was super hyped to get the start finally,” Van Nest said. “It was fun to get out there and really go to work, from the beginning—getting in the flow.”
Picking up a trio of blocks, he altered shots in the paint and challenged Terrier forward and former AAU teammate Jake O’Brien, who eventually moved out to the perimeter and collected 20 points.
“I know his game...he’s all right-handed, and he always stops in the middle of the lane and tries a jump shot,” Van Nest said. “I got a hand up two times in a row, and I think that kind of threw him off initially...I never wanted him to feel comfortable.”
Van Nest’s contributions were even more valuable considering the showing of sophomore stud Kyle Casey, who looked to still be recovering from a broken foot sustained in the preseason, as well as a recent virus. The forward had three points and three fouls in 17 minutes.
“He’s got to get in better shape, obviously. That’s just a function of being out,” Amaker said. “I just think he’s rusty, and it’s going to be a while.”
Also a concern were Harvard’s struggles during the bulk of the first frame. Jumping out to a quick 16-8 lead during the game’s first five minutes, the Crimson then neglected to attack the rim or utilize its size advantage, instead settling for jump shots. Faced with a BU zone defense, its three-point shooting went cold, as Harvard missed 10 straight shots from behind the arc.
A pair of long-range jumpers and free throws by Rivard in the final three minutes of the half gave the Crimson a narrow 35-33 lead heading into the locker room, but a revitalized attack in the final period—during which Harvard had 20 attempts from the charity stripe, compared to the Terriers’ six—helped the Crimson pass its last on-court test before the beginning of exams.
—Staff writer Dennis J. Zheng can be reached at email@example.com.