The Harvard men’s basketball team has made a habit of starting slow this season, often falling behind early or letting inferior opponents hang around until it finds its rhythm in the second half. Not the case on Saturday afternoon.
Facing George Washington (6-11, 0-2 A-10), the Crimson (15-2, 1-0 Ivy) came out of the gate with stifling defense and a balanced offensive attack, starting the game with a quick 15-4 run en route to a 69-48 win at Lavietes Pavilion.
The Crimson dominated in its best defensive first half of the season, as the Colonials scored only 13 points on 15 percent shooting from the field. George Washington's leading scorer, Tony Taylor, was held to just five points on one-for-seven shooting in the half, thanks largely to the efforts of junior guard Brandyn Curry.
“Our defense has been our calling card,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “That’s what’s allowed us to be successful thus far.”
The Colonials responded to Harvard’s fast start with a 7-0 run of their own, cutting their deficit to four. But the game got no closer, as the Crimson answered with 10 straight points, part of an 18-2 run to close out the half, and went into the locker room up 33-13.
The Colonials offense was no longer anemic in the second half, but a relentless Crimson attack made it impossible for them to chip away at the lead. Sophomore Laurent Rivard, who scored 16 points while starting in place of the injured Christian Webster, drained an early three-pointer as he was fouled and made the free throw, one of his two four-point-plays on the afternoon. George Washington spent the rest of the half searching for a rhythm they would never find.
Harvard was paced by Freshman forward Steve Moundou-Missi, who came off the bench and scored 11 of his career high 16 points in the second half, including two thunderous dunks and his first career three-pointer. Co-captain Keith Wright finished with 11 points (eight of which came in the first half) and eight rebounds, while Curry dished out seven assists.
The Crimson’s blazing start, highlighted by a baseline drive and dunk from junior Kyle Casey, was only briefly interrupted by George Washington guard Aaron Ware, who made two free throws and drained a three before teammate David Pellom made a layup to pull the Colonials within four with just under 12 minutes to play in the half.
Freshman wing Wesley Saunders broke a five-minute scoring drought for Harvard with two made free throws, and Casey was fouled as he made a layup on the Crimson’s next possession.
After two consecutive defensive stops, Rivard drove to the lane and dished to Wright who threw it down. After coming up with a loose ball seconds later, Wright dribbled the length of the floor and returned the favor, finding Rivard for the easy two that put Harvard ahead, 23-11, with 6:30 to play in the half.
After another Wright layup, Taylor paused the Crimson run with two made free throws, but Harvard closed the half with eight straight points, capped off by a three-pointer from Moundou-Missi as the shot clock ran down.
The Colonials shooting improved significantly in the second half, but Harvard’s lead never fell below 16. Junior guard Lasan Kromah scored all 12 of his points in the second half and Taylor added eight of his team-high 13, but George Washington had no answer for the balanced Crimson offense.
“I don’t think they were ready for how hard we came out.” Rivard said.
The 13 points allowed in the first half matches the Crimson’s stingiest frame of the season (Harvard held Boston College to 13 second-half points on Dec. 29). George Washington’s 49 points is its lowest output on the season.
“I think on the perimeter we took away their shots,” Rivard said. “They didn’t really have second chance points.”
Harvard shot an impressive 65 percent in the game, largely thanks to perfect shooting performances from Moundou-Missi and Wright, while Rivard misfired on just one three-point attempt in the first.
Taylor managed to match his season average with 13 points but was inefficient, going three of 12 from the field.
“We really tried to make it difficult for him,” Amaker said. “I thought we did a really nice job of that.”
Junior guard Christian Webster missed the game with a hip injury while freshman Corbin Miller was out with a strained ligament in his thumb. Both are day-to-day, said Amaker, who is hopeful they will return in time for Saturday’s matchup at Dartmouth.
“The main thing I’m hopeful for,” Amaker said, “is to keep the constant defensive presence that we’ve had.”