On the verge of an upset at Lavietes Pavilion last night, Monmouth led Harvard by nine with 8:23 remaining in the second half. But the Crimson (8-3) responded with 11 straight points and held off the Hawks (4-9) to win, 74-69.
“Hell of a comeback by our team,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “It was a game of runs…[It] was a gutsy win.”
After hitting seven of eight three-point attempts in the first half, Monmouth led 36-29 heading into the break at Lavietes Pavilion. The Crimson reeled off eight straight points to open the second period, taking a 37-36 lead after sophomore guard Brandyn Curry rattled home a pair of free throws four minutes into the frame.
The two teams traded leads until the score was set at 45-45 with just over 11 minutes remaining in the contest. The Hawks then put together a big run.
Forward Gary Cox hit a three from the top of the key, and then guard Jesse Steele stole the ball on the other end. The ensuing fast break ended with two free throws made by guard Will Campbell. Center Phil Wait posted up and scored on the next possession, and Campbell capped the run with a long two from the right corner to give Monmouth a 54-45 lead and force Harvard to call a timeout.
“We called a timeout...[because] I wanted to put them in a familiar mindset that we’ve done this before,” Amaker said. “I thought they responded very well.”
“We had a sense of urgency,” junior co-captain Oliver McNally said. “We needed to play better or we were going to lose a game at home that we felt we shouldn’t lose.”
Facing a major disappointment on its home floor, the Crimson rallied. Coming out of the timeout, McNally hit a three from the left wing. Freshman guard Laurent Rivard followed with a drive and nifty left-handed scoop to cut the lead to four. The next time down the floor, the freshman nailed a triple from the top of the arc. Rivard led all scorers with 18 points on five-of-seven shooting from the field and six-of-six shooting from the line.
“He’s a player,” Amaker said of the freshman. “He made some huge baskets for us, but we expect that from him...He’s a tough kid, and our players have a lot of confidence in him.”
“He’s a scorer,” McNally said. “He knows how to put the ball in the basket.”
McNally gave Harvard the lead by stealing the ball at midcourt and drawing a foul on the fast break. The junior hit both free throws.
“The plays that he made—the shots at critical moments—were huge for our team,” Amaker said. “He lives for those moments, and we needed every big play by him.”
The two teams traded leads over the next several possessions until the Crimson found itself up 66-64 with two minutes remaining. Junior co-captain Keith Wright, who went without a field goal en route to scoring just five points, deflected an entry pass into the post, which Curry then corralled.
On the other end, Wright snared an offensive board after a missed jumper by sophomore forward Kyle Casey. Running the shot clock all the way to the final seconds, Casey ended the possession by finding Rivard on the weak side for an easy lay-in with 58 seconds remaining in the game.
The four-point cushion made all the difference down the stretch, as turnovers and missed shots forced the Hawks to foul for the rest of the contest. Converted free throws iced the contest, and Harvard prevailed, 74-69, on a night in which Monmouth shot 57.1 percent from deep.
“We came out really flat,” McNally said. “[But] we stayed in it and gutted it out…Monmouth played really well. They played really tough. They’re a scrappy group of guys who hit a lot of shots tonight, so you’ve got to give a lot of credit to them.”
The Crimson had five players in double figures with Rivard, McNally, Curry, Webster, and Casey scoring 18, 14, 12, 11, and 11 points, respectively.
“This team has been a pretty balanced ballclub,” Amaker said. “That’s something that’s been working well for us, and we needed it tonight.”
“Anybody can beat you,” McNally said of the narrow victory. “In Division I, people are talented, and they’re there for a reason. We’re not any crazy talented team. We’re a group of good players, but if we don’t bring effort, then we can get beat by anybody.”