Defense Plays Crucial Role in UMass Matchup
Heading into Tuesday’s contest at the Mullins Center, the Harvard men’s basketball team had not lost to a squad from its home state since Dec. 10, 2008, when Northeastern claimed an overtime victory against the Crimson. But the 15-game winning streak against Commonwealth teams ended in heartbreaking fashion at the hands of UMass, as reserve Sampson Carter knocked down a three with 1.2 seconds remaining in the contest to lead the Minutemen over Harvard, 67-64, Tuesday morning.
The game—which aired on ESPN as part of the 2012 College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon—marked the first time that Harvard and UMass have met on the basketball court since the 1991-92 season, and with the win, the Minutemen cemented a 14-7 edge in the all-time series.
But the game, which morphed into nail-biter that included eight lead changes and five ties in the second half, was not as close a contest from the get-go. UMass scored first, 1:22 into the game, and was able to hold its advantage for the duration of the opening frame, leading by many as 10 points.
Down nine with less than two minutes left to play in the first half, co-captain Christian Webster came up big for the Crimson, scoring seven of his 10 points—his first double-digit scoring effort since Dec. 29, 2011—in the final 1:34 of the half, including a trey three seconds before the break, to keep the Crimson within striking distance, 38-37.
“We try to give our kids the mindset that we can keep battling through any adversity,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “The word ‘composure’ was big for us, and I thought we had that pretty much throughout until that last minute or so [of the game].”
UMass’s high-pressure defense—the Minutemen stayed in a full-court press for the full 40 minutes—helped the home team net 29 points off of turnovers to Harvard’s nine, including 16 points on Harvard mistakes in the second half.
But according to UMass coach Derek Kellogg, the Crimson was able to break pressure against the full-court press effectively.
“[Harvard’s] freshman point guard [Siyani Chambers] showed some composure out there against a pressing team,” Kellogg said. “They really had four ball handlers out there. It’s hard to press a team when they’re smaller and have four guys that can handle the ball.”
Although the Minutemen did rack up points on Harvard turnovers, UMass got into foul trouble early on, amassing its seventh hack with 10:54 still to play in the first half and its 10th just 2:47 after that. The second half transpired similarly, with any UMass foul in the final 8:14 bringing Harvard to the line.
“If you’re going to press and you force turnovers, you have to keep them off the free throw line, which we didn’t do,” Kellogg said.
Sophomore Wesley Saunders was able to capitalize on the aggressive defense, swishing 10-of-11 foul shots to help Harvard go 22-of-26 from the line on the game.
In his first collegiate game at the Division I level, Chambers was faced with perhaps the toughest matchup on the court Monday morning: the task of defending UMass point guard Chaz Williams.
Last season, Williams averaged 16.9 points per game while also tallying 231 assists and 81 steals. At the onset of the 2012-13 campaign, he was selected as a member of the A-10 preseason first team.