When the Harvard men’s basketball team squares off against Manhattan College this Friday at Lavietes Pavilion, it will be a meeting of two teams which both had historic postseason runs last season and are coached by magnetic figures who have reinvigorated their respective programs.
Both the Crimson (1-1) and the Jaspers (0-1) are fresh off of road losses. Harvard fell to UMass Monday, 67-64, on a buzzer beater televised on ESPN as part of the network’s Tip-Off Marathon.
“It was a tough loss but we thought we had played hard and done really well especially in the second half,” junior co-captain guard Laurent Rivard said. “We’re excited to step back on the court and get back on the winning track.”
Manhattan, on the other hand, was blown out on Sunday by home-favorite No. 2 Louisville, 79-51. The Cardinals are ranked second in the nation in the most recent AP poll, thanks in large part to a stingy defense that held Manhattan to just 35.7 percent shooting from the field.
Louisville guard Russ Smith led all scorers with 23 points on the night while junior Jaspers center Rhamel Brown was second with 18. Brown went 7-for-13 from the floor and 4-for-9 from the line. The co-captain posted a double-double, adding a career-high 15 rebounds. Junior guard Michael Alvarado was second on the team in scoring, with 13 points, nine of which came from the charity stripe.
Alvarado and sophomore forward Emmy Andujar were the sole providers of assists for Manhattan against Louisville. Alvarado had two in the game while Andujar finished with three dimes. The forward led the team with 105 last season, and was second in scoring, averaging 8.5 points per game.
Notably absent from the game was co-captain guard George Beamon, who has a badly sprained ankle and is not expected to return for the game on Friday, according to Jaspers coach Steve Masiello. The senior led the team in scoring last year with 19.1 points per game, the highest in the MAAC, and was expected to be a major threat in the backcourt before the injury.
The game against Louisville was a homecoming for Masiello, who joined Manhattan in 2011 after six years in Louisville as an assistant to Cardinals head coach Rick Pitino. Masiello played for Pitino as a guard at Kentucky from 1996 to 2000. During his career, the Wildcats made it to the Final Four twice and won the national title outright in the 1997-98 season.
Upon his arrival in Riverdale, Masiello quickly revived the program with the largest turnaround in the nation, improving upon the previous season’s record by 15 wins. The team went 21-13 overall and 12-6 in the MAAC. Against Ivy League opponents Manhattan posted a win against Brown while falling to Penn and cross-town Columbia. The Jaspers dropped their first-round conference tournament game to Siena College in overtime, 84-82, but still appeared in their first postseason tournament, the CIT, in six years.
Manhattan comes to Cambridge to face off a Crimson team which erased a second half deficit only to be stunned by a last-second three by the Minutemen.
“We see that we’re capable of going into an opponent’s arena, a very good basketball team, a team that’s going to do very well this year,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “Now we have to show that we’re going to be greedy enough, tough enough to win a game like that this year. I’m hopeful that our kids will. We talked about [it] right away - it’s just trying to regroup and responding for the remainder of this week.”
Turnovers proved costly for the Crimson, as it allowed 29 total points off of errors in the game. Two fatal turnovers in the last 1:30 allowed UMass to go on an 8-0 run which sealed the defeat for Harvard.
Freshman point guard Siyani Chambers had a banner game in the loss in what was his first collegiate road game. The rookie started and played the entire game, tallying 14 points and seven assists, with just one turnover.
“I thought that was a magnificent performance by Siyani,” Amaker said. “To play the way he played with the spirit and the energy and the toughness, I think he’s shown that he’s going to be an outstanding player. It’s just too bad we couldn’t cap it off with a victory to make it that much sweeter for him.”
Harvard and Manhattan have met eight times previously, splitting the all-time series, 4-4, but have not met since the 1987-88 season.
“We’re trying to grow every day and get to know each other better on the court,” Rivard said. “Obviously we want to win our games but what matters in the end [are] Ivy League games.”