From start to finish, there was no stopping the Harvard men’s basketball team.
Friday night at Lavietes Pavilion, the Crimson posted its largest win over a Division I opponent in the Tommy Amaker era, crushing Manhattan, 79-45. Five players scored in double figures for Harvard, which bounced back after blowing a five-point lead in the final 1:12 against UMass Tuesday.
“We knew we didn’t finish right [against the Minutemen], so we turned the page,” junior co-captain Laurent Rivard said. “We were ready to bounce back [and] play as a team. Everybody contributed today.... It was really a great win, a great team effort.”
The Crimson began the game on an 11-2 run that was capped by back-to-back threes by Rivard, both of which were assisted by freshman point guard Siyani Chambers. The junior finished with a game-high 17 points, while Chambers continued his solid play to open the season, collecting 14 points, seven assists, and three steals in 35 minutes despite facing a tight Jaspers press.
“I’m impressed, but I’m not surprised,” Amaker said of Chambers. “That’s why we recruited the heck out of him.... He brings a presence to the floor, commands the team, and I love that he understands [the game] at a very high level.”
Harvard went on a 7-0 run later in the half to extend its lead to 23-7. Chambers had a steal leading to two free throws, sophomore Wesley Saunders found co-captain Christian Webster for a short jumper from the left elbow, Rivard hit another three off a pass from sophomore Jonah Travis from the low block, and Chambers capped things off by collecting another steal and throwing in a layup at the other end.
After two Manhattan baskets, Rivard knocked down a three from the right corner, which led to a 12-0 Crimson run.
“When [Rivard is] open, it’s the responsibility of our players to find him and put the ball in his hands,” Amaker said.
Freshman Agunwa Okolie capped the stretch with a short floater off a pass from Chambers to put the Crimson up, 35-11, with just over two minutes to go in the half. The rookie point guard later knocked down a three from the left wing to give Harvard a 39-15 lead going into the break.
“They played a zone, and we have a good zone offense,” Rivard said. “[Chambers has] given our team such a great boost in breaking the press, finding guys, and knocking down shots when he’s open.”
The Crimson started the second half on an 18-5 run to extend its lead to 57-20. Sophomore Steve Moundou-Missi opened the half with a layup, and then Rivard hit a wide-open three, Chambers found Saunders in transition for a dunk, Webster had a driving layup, and Okolie capped the run with a two-handed slam off a pass from Rivard.
“I was really, really pleased with [Okolie’s] minutes off the bench,” Amaker said. “He was being aggressive, finishing at the rim, finishing on the break.”
Meanwhile, Manhattan—which was playing without its best player, guard George Beamon—was sloppy at the other end and faced a stringent Harvard defense. The Jaspers collected their 21st turnover before they got their 21st point.
The Harvard lead got as large as 39, at 63-24, on a Chambers three with 9:32 to go. Later in the half, sophomore Kenyatta Smith threw an outlet pass to Okolie, who put down a two-handed jam, and Okolie returned the favor next time down by finding Smith for a slam to give the Crimson a 67-30 lead. On the next Crimson possession, Smith found Saunders for another easy Harvard dunk.
Amaker was able to empty his bench in the final minutes of the game, and freshmen Mike Hall and Evan Cummins scored their first career baskets, as the Crimson cruised to the easy win.
Webster finished with 12 points, while Okolie had 11, and Saunders added 10.
“It’s fun [that] everybody was really part of [the win],” Rivard said. “That doesn’t happen very often.”
Harvard’s margin of victory over the Jaspers was six points larger than No. 2 Louisville’s, who beat Manhattan, 79-51, on Sunday.
“We’re pleased to be able to turn around and have a 40-minute performance,” Amaker said. “We used the words ‘regroup’ and ‘respond,’ and I thought we had a great team performance defensively. It’s nice to see our kids dig in and give that type of effort.”
—Staff writer Scott A. Sherman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.