After tipping off its season with a 69-54 victory over MIT, the Crimson men’s basketball team faces a much stiffer challenge Tuesday against UMass. The game—which is part of ESPN’s College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon—is Harvard’s (1-0) first major nonconference test.
Although the Crimson knocked off the preseason No. 1 Division III team to start the season without departed starters Oliver McNally ’12, Keith Wright ’12, Brandyn Curry, and Kyle Casey, Harvard faces a larger challenge against UMass. The Minutemen won 25 games last year and made a run to the semifinals of the National Invitational Tournament, where they fell to Stanford.
The game will start at 10 a.m. as part of the unusual scheduling involved in the Tip-Off Marathon, which has games all day and every two hours as a part of a 24-hour long segment of broadcasted basketball. The game is three hours earlier than any other contest the Crimson will be playing the rest of the year, and it is one of 14 televised games Harvard will be participating in this season.
“We’re ready to play,” co-captain Christian Webster said. “We’ve been practicing at 10 for the last couple days, so we’re ready [for the early start time].”
UMass, meanwhile, will be playing its first game of the year. The Minutemen feature six returning players who played at least 36 minutes a game in 2011-12. Three projected starters—Chaz Williams, Raphiael Putney, and Jesse Morgan—shot 36 percent or better from three last year as part of an up-tempo attack that averaged 77 points a game and 35 percent shooting as a team from beyond the arc.
Williams shot 42 percent from three and averaged a team-high 17 points and six assists a year ago and will provide a tough task defensively for Crimson freshman point guard Siyani Chambers. But Williams turned the ball over almost twice as much as any other player on the team—a rate of 3.4 give aways per game. Webster said Harvard is focused on stopping the entire team, not just keying in on Williams, who was named to the Atlantic 10 preseason first team.
“We know they are a really active team,” Webster said. “We know UMass loves to get out in transition and score a lot of points, but we’re going to contain them and then play our offense.”
Against the Engineers, Harvard made 40 percent of its three-point attempts and held MIT to 36.4 percent shooting from the floor and just 28.6 percent from behind the arc.
The Crimson shared the ball well and had 17 assists, with six different players contributing two or more. On defense, the team was able to pressure the Engineers into 18 turnovers, including nine steals that jump-started Crimson fast breaks.
“We want to play a fast pace and be aggressive with our defense so that we can produce offense from our defense,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “We want to be creating turnovers ourselves and then taking care of the ball on the other end.”
Harvard broke in four new starters against the Engineers, including sophomore center Kenyatta Smith, who had eight points, eight rebounds, and five blocks in just 21 minutes of action. Smith split time at the center position with sophomore Jonah Travis, who came in off the bench to post 14 points, eight rebounds, and three blocks. The duo combined for four of the Crimson’s 11 total offensive rebounds, something that will be crucial against UMass, who lost leading rebounder Sean Carter to graduation.
Although Harvard only led by five after the first 20 minutes of play, the Crimson pulled away in the second half against MIT by outscoring the Crimson by 10 after the break.
Amaker said that he was pleased with how his team played at the end of the game, creating turnovers at one end of the floor and generating quality shots at the other.
“We got the stops and didn’t bail them out by putting them on the foul line,” Amaker said. “I think that we did a good job of, when we got stops, getting out in transition and being able to make a couple plays. We ran our offense well late and made good decisions with the ball.”
Doing just that will be especially important against the Minutemen, who were picked fifth in the Atlantic 10 preseason poll.