Tuesday night will pit fresh faces against experience when the Harvard men’s basketball team travels to take on Saint Joseph’s at Hagan Arena in Philadelphia, Penn.
The Crimson (2-1) is the epitome of a team in transition after losing co-captains Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey before the start of the season, while the Hawks (2-1) have depended on a veteran squad, returning every major contributor from last year.
When the two teams last went head-to-head a season ago, Saint Joseph’s jumped out to an early lead and held it for most of the game. But with two minutes on the clock, Harvard powered ahead, overcoming a 14-point deficit to take the game, 74-69.
When the Crimson takes the court on Tuesday, it will be with a decidedly different team than last December’s. Harvard lost its top four scorers from last season, but the team has seen production from a variety of players who have stepped into new roles this season.
According to Crimson coach Tommy Amaker, freshman point guard Siyani Chambers has been crucial in helping the Harvard offense cope with the variety of defensive philosophies it has seen so far this season. In last Friday’s 79-45 blowout against Manhattan, Chambers notched 14 points and seven assists, controlling the play down the court and creating offensive opportunities in 35 minutes of play.
“[Chambers] brings a presence to the floor and commands the team, and I love that,” Amaker said. “That’s what the position is about…and he understands it at a very high level for a very young guy.”
After dropping a close contest to UMass last Tuesday, the team is looking to build on its win against Manhattan. Essential in the victory was junior co-captain and wing Laurent Rivard, who scored a game-high 17 points against the Jaspers. After Rivard shot for only six points against the Minutemen earlier in the week, Amaker credits the team with getting him the ball on Friday.
“It’s the responsibility of our players to find him and put the ball in his hands,” Amaker said. “His shooting touch and his range ability is outstanding.”
Saint Joseph’s is also coming off a big weekend after placing second at the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. The Hawks—picked to finish first in the Atlantic 10—upset No. 20 Notre Dame in a 79-70 overtime victory before losing to Florida State on Sunday.
In the victory against Notre Dame, the Hawks relied on a career performance by junior forward Ronald Roberts, who had 21 points and 16 assists as one of five players who scored in the double digits. It was his second double-double of the young season, in which he is averaging 15.3 points per game, an improvement over last year’s 10.9.
Also returning for Saint Joseph’s is junior guard Langston Galloway, a 2011 All-Conference Second Team player and two-time Hawks MVP, who scored 22 points against the Crimson last year and is averaging 13.7 points per game this year.
Senior Carl Jones will join Galloway in the backcourt. The guard, who averaged 17 points per game a season ago, will make his second appearance of the year after missing Saint Joseph’s first three contests.
With the strong-shooting Hawks team—five players are averaging double figures and a sixth is scoring 9.7 points per game—Harvard will look to its defense keep the ball out of its opponent’s hands.
The Crimson has had difficulty maintaining possession in its first few games, and last Tuesday, UMass made Harvard pay. The Crimson coughed up the ball 19 times against the Minutemen, including two costly turnovers with less than 90 seconds to play that helped UMass come back from a five-point deficit to take the win.
Harvard gave up 17 turnovers against Manhattan but improved across the board offensively, shooting over 50 percent—including 8-of-16 from behind the arc—for the first time this season. The team also notched a season-high 19 assists and 12 steals.
“We were pleased to be able to turn around and have a 40-minute performance defensively,” Amaker said. “It was outstanding coming off of the really tough loss we had at UMass.”
Adding to the young Harvard team is freshman guard Agunwa Okolie, who racked up 11 points, two rebounds, and two assists in 18 minutes of play off the bench against Manhattan. In the previous two games, Okolie had only seen three minutes of combined playing time.
“We feel like we can go to him more, and that’s really impressive for me right now because our bench isn’t very deep or long,” Amaker said.
With the all-time series tied, 1-1, the Crimson is looking to gain the edge on Tuesday and continue moving forward following its loss to UMass.
“It started right after Tuesday’s game in the locker room,” Rivard said following Harvard’s victory over Manhattan. “We knew we didn’t finish right, so we turned the page.”