Over the past two seasons, the Harvard men’s basketball team’s enormous level of success has been in large part based on two factors—stingy defense and accurate free-throw shooting.
The Crimson was fourth in the country in team defense last season and second in free-throw percentage in 2010-11—the two most successful campaigns in program history.
But in Tuesday night’s 85-78 loss to Vermont at Lavietes Pavilion, the Crimson struggled in both areas, making clear for the second consecutive game that this year’s squad still has a long way to go to match the success its predecessors achieved the past two years.
The 85 points Harvard allowed was the most it surrendered in a regular-season game since a Dec. 23, 2009 loss to Georgetown. After not allowing more than 70 points in a regular-season contest last season, the Crimson has done so in two consecutive games after it fell to St. Joseph’s, 75-56, a week ago.
“That’s been one of the calling cards of our program and our team—to be able to defend—and certainly we didn’t do that as well as we needed to tonight,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said.
That was especially true in the first half, as the Catamounts took a 48-34 lead into the break by shooting 73 percent from the floor.
“We couldn’t get stops,” Amaker said. “We didn’t do well in ball screen coverage.... They broke us down and from there opened up the floor, got in the seams.”
“A lot of the time they were popping out of pick and rolls,” sophomore wing Wes Saunders added.
While preventing Harvard from getting off a three-point attempt until there were less than five minutes to go in the first half, Vermont shot six-of-nine from long distance, helping it score 36 more points than the Crimson has allowed on average at home this year.
“They got so much confidence from the plays they were making off the ball screen,” Amaker said. “Once they saw that was a sore spot for us, they stayed with it, so credit to them for making those plays.”
In many ways, the game was determined at the free-throw line, where Harvard shot just 65.6 percent, missing 11 of 32 attempts.
“We usually make free throws,” Saunders said. “It was just an off night.”
Co-captain Christian Webster—who was 13th in the nation after shooting 89.4 percent from the charity stripe two seasons ago—missed his first five attempts from the line and finished one-for-six.
At the other end of the court, Vermont took 26 free throws and made 80.8 percent of them. That success helped the Catamounts hand Harvard just its second loss in its last 32 games at Lavietes Pavilion.