With 1:32 to play in Tuesday night’s contest at Lavietes Pavilion, sophomore wing Wesley Saunders stole the ball on the Crimson’s full court press and passed to rookie point guard Siyani Chambers. The freshman quickly drew a foul and knocked down both of his free throw attempts to put the Harvard men’s basketball team within three points of a Catamounts squad that had amassed a 14-point lead at the half.
But that was as close as the Crimson (2-3) would come to a victory, as Vermont (4-1, 1-0 America East) pulled away to secure the win, 85-78.
“We made great headway [and] effort to try to get back into [the game] in the second half,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “But that kind of hole to a team that was playing as well as they were playing made it very difficult.”
On the next possession, Catamounts’ guard Sandro Carissimo—who finished the game with a career-high 25 points on 8-of-11 shooting, including four-of-five from behind the arc—knocked down a wide open three-pointer to push his team’s lead back up to six with 1:17 remaining in the game.
From there, it was all free throws. Vermont knocked down four of six from the line to finish the contest, and despite adding three points on a Chambers layup and a single foul shot from co-captain Christian Webster, Harvard could not close the gap.
“I give [Vermont] a lot of credit,” Amaker said. “I think they played well for 40 minutes, and I think we played well for maybe 22 minutes.”
The Crimson struggled from the charity stripe throughout the game, knocking down just 21 of 32 attempts, including a dismal 9-for-17 in the first half. Webster had a particularly tough night at the line, adding just one point in six free throw attempts.
Harvard made it a two-point game with 11:06 to play on a Webster three from the top of the key, but six straight points from the Catamounts, all on free throws, pushed the game just out of reach once again.
The Crimson entered the second half down 48-34 but quickly climbed back into the game with an 18-7 run in the opening 6:33 that included two three pointers from junior co-captain Laurent Rivard in the first three minutes of the frame.
“We got off to a slow start,” Saunders added. “We kind of picked it up in the second half, but we kind of got ourselves into a hole. We have a lot of stuff we need to work on, so we just have to keep working to get better.”
Rivard—who was four-of-nine from three-point range—was one of three Crimson players to score in double digits. Saunders led the team with 21 points, while Chambers chipped in 16 and a team-high eight assists.
But while Harvard’s offense posted its second-highest point total of the season—just one point behind its total in the 79-45 rout of Manhattan on Nov. 16—its defense struggled to stall the Vermont offense, giving up the highest number of points since a 93-71 loss to Appalachian State on March 17, 2010.
“It really wasn’t one of our better defensive performances,” Amaker said. “We’ve been a very good defensive team, so it was alarming for us to have them shoot the way they did in the first half.”
Harvard led the Catamounts, 13-9, after 4:17 in the first half, but a 9-0 run in the following 3:19 gave Vermont a lead it would not relinquish.
Vermont shot an impressive 73 percent from the field in the opening frame, knocking down 19 of 26 attempts and six-of-nine from three-point range.
“I don’t think we were ready to play from the beginning [of the game],” Saunders said. “Once we did get ready to play, we were too far behind, and it was hard to catch up.”
The Crimson—which finished the night 9-of-16 from behind the arc—attempted just three long-range shots in the first half. Webster made Harvard’s first three-point attempt of the game with 4:41 left to play. After two more makes in the final five minutes of play from Rivard, the Crimson was a perfect three-for-three from deep heading into the break.
With the loss, the Crimson drops to below .500 for the first time in this young season.
“Coming into [the season], we knew it was going to be a tough road for us,” Amaker said. “We knew with this game and other games, we’re playing some really good teams…. We need to find out if we can hold our spirit together, if we can hold our confidence. I think that will be very key for us.”
—Staff writer Catherine E. Coppinger can be reached at email@example.com.