Prior to its game Saturday afternoon against visiting George Washington, the No. 25 Harvard men’s basketball team had been plagued by sluggish starts. In its previous seven contests—against six teams currently holding a losing record—the Crimson had held a lead at the 10-minute mark in the first half just twice.
While Harvard eventually managed to notch four double-digit margins of victory during the span, its early-game performance became a key area of concern for a team closing out its non-conference schedule this weekend.
At least for one afternoon, consider those worries allayed. With 9:11 remaining in the opening half, the Crimson held a six-point lead before jumping out on a 14-2 run to enter halftime with a 33-13 lead.
“Coach always says, ‘If we don’t start right, we don’t have a good chance of ending right,’” sophomore wing Laurent Rivard said.
Harvard proved coach Tommy Amaker’s philosophy correct, establishing a lead as large as 24 before coming away with a wire-to-wire 69-48 victory for its 23rd straight win at home—currently the fifth-longest streak in the nation.
Last year, the Crimson trailed the Colonials by seven at halftime before coming back for a 67-62 road win.
But this season’s edition wasted no time in reestablishing its dominance over an Atlantic-10 conference team. George Washington represented the third squad from the conference Harvard has faced in five games.
“Harvard is a very good team,” Colonials coach Mike Lonergan said. “They put on a clinic and destroyed us. The game was over at halftime.”
After grabbing six points, two blocks, and a steal in 12 minutes of first-half action, junior big man Kyle Casey picked up his fourth foul with 15:24 remaining in the second half. Though the Harvard star did not return to the floor until five minutes left in the game, Amaker’s lineup experienced no dropoff in production, as freshman Steve Moundou-Missi came off the bench to notch a career-high 16 points and lead all scorers on 7-of-7 shooting from the floor.
“He gave us great minutes today,” Amaker said. “Catching the ball strong with two hands, rebounding it, and doing some things we expect him to do. Making every shot he takes is probably a little too much to ask, but we liked the energy he’s giving us off the bench and the aggressiveness around the rim, finishing around the goal and at the foul line.”
On his first appearance in the second half, the Cameroon native finished at the basket off a pass from junior point guard Brandyn Curry. Several possessions later, the guard found a charging Moundou-Missi along the baseline for another layup.
The next time down the court, the forward hit a desperation jumper late in the shot clock. A minute and a half later, classmate Wesley Saunders passed baseline to Moundou-Missi, who elevated for a one-handed dunk.
“Basketball’s just a game,” Moundou-Missi said. “You feel it, and you don’t have to think about it. You let yourself go into the game and just make some incredible plays, and that’s what happened.”
Perhaps his most incredible play of the afternoon—even more noteworthy than his first collegiate three-pointer, which came late in the first half— came with just over two minutes to go, when Moundou-Missi caught the ball along the baseline, pump-faked his defender into the air, and drove for a two-handed jam.