NOTEBOOK: Harvard Men's Basketball Overcomes Slow Start Against MIT

In the first game of the season for both Harvard and MIT men’s basketball, each squad showed the rust of a long off-season early in the night. Eventually the Crimson pulled out the win, 69-54, but not before an abundance of turnovers and a series of runs characterized the first period for both teams as inconsistent.

Harvard’s opening four possessions all resulted in turnovers, while the Engineers lost possession of the ball on their first two times down the court. While MIT’s initial two turnovers were forced, the Crimson’s were not. The first Harvard mistake came on an attempted post-entry pass from the top of the key to the left block, but the ball missed its target, ending up out of bounds. The next turnover came on a fumble in the lane, followed by an intercepted pass and one more lost ball.

Harvard scored its first a little over five minutes into the contest, thanks to two free throws from co-captain Christian Webster. This lack of early offense led the Engineers to take an early lead, 10-2.

But with Webster’s shots from the charity stripe, the momentum seemed to flip, and the Crimson quickly went on a 20-2 run in the next 8:28, earning and extending the lead to 20-12.

“Things change when you can get the ball to go in the basket a few times,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “You feel much better about yourselves. [We] took care of it, and I thought those runs were indicative of what is probably going to happen in the game of basketball. Tonight we were the beneficiary of it at the right time. ”

Harvard only turned the ball over five more times throughout the rest of the game, tallying nine on the night, whereas MIT amassed 18 in total.

BLOCK PARTY

After only recording three blocks in the 2011-12 season, sophomore Kenyatta Smith recorded five Friday night, one for about every four minutes that he was on the court. Despite his active play, Smith managed to only pick up one personal foul in the entirety of the game.

The sophomore’s initial two blocks were close to identical. The first came with 6:54 remaining in the opening half when the Engineers’ Mitchell Kates drove from the right wing to the basket, and attempted to lay it up from five feet out. Smith swatted the ball out of the air and out of bounds—almost exactly where his next block would end up, 85 seconds later, when Kates tried the same shot once more.

“We were just trying to do the same thing we do every game,” sophomore Wesley Saunders said. “Just contain them.”

Smith’s aggression was matched by classmate Jonah Travis. Travis recorded three blocks for the game, good for 43 percent of his total from last year. Fellow sophomores Steve Moundou-Missi and Saunders, as well as junior co-captain Laurent Rivard, each added one to the Crimson total, pushing it to 10 on the night.

The Crimson’s 10 blocks were only two shy of the team record of 12, which was set in 2008 against Army. Smith’s five stuffs were just two short of the all-time high for a player in a single game—the record belongs to Brian Banks ’78, who nabbed seven blocks in a match-up against Detroit in 1977.

But Amaker saw the abundance of blocks as a stat that pointed to Harvard’s inconsistent defense at the top of the shot clock.

“I think sometimes blocking shots can be misleading,” Amaker said. “[It] can make it seem like that player is playing great defense, which is not always true…. [Smith] blocked some shots…which is great and we’ll take it, but we’d rather be in a position where we don’t have to come up with the blocks, because sometimes we’re making the blocks because we’re out of position to start.”

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