Sophomore Wesley Saunders was just two for nine from the field Saturday against Fordham, but finished with a game-high 17 points by going 13 for 18 from the free-throw line in a 73-64 victory at Lavietes Pavilion. The team got to the charity stripes 39 times in the game.
It certainly wasn’t pretty, but the Harvard men’s basketball team will take it.
The Crimson committed 20 turnovers, shot 42.2 percent from the field, surrendered 19 offensive rebounds, and saw its 12-point second-half lead cut to four with 44 seconds remaining.
But thanks to an improved defensive performance, Harvard held on for a 73-64 win against Fordham Saturday afternoon at Lavietes Pavilion.
“Obviously both teams [were] somewhat desperate for a win, and I think both teams displayed it,” said Harvard coach Tommy Amaker, whose squad held Fordham (1-6) to 39.7 percent shooting after surrendering 85 points on 59.6 percent shooting in a loss to Vermont on Tuesday. “A tough game against a team that we knew was going to be coming in here with their best effort.”
With the Crimson’s lead down to four, 67-63, the Rams sent Crimson freshman Agunwa Okolie to the line with 33 seconds to go. Okolie, who entered the game shooting one of four from the charity stripe, knocked down both free throws, and the Crimson (3-3) held on for a nine-point win.
Harvard shot 39 free throws, its highest total since Nov. 2008, and converted 29 attempts, good for a mark of 74.4 percent.
“That’s a weapon for us,” Amaker said. “We want to get [to the free-throw line] a lot, but we want to see if we can convert even more.”
In 18 trips to the line, sophomore wing Wesley Saunders scored 13 of his game-high 17 points. Sophomore forward Jonah Travis added 16 points and 12 rebounds, marking his second career double-double.
But despite the performance of Travis and the Crimson’s advantage at the line, the Rams kept pace thanks to its efforts on the glass. Fordham pulled down a season-high 19 offensive rebounds, six more than the Crimson had surrendered in any game this year, and scored 26 second-chance points.
“[Fordham] did a great job,” Amaker said. “That was probably their best offense. I’m sure they knew that they weren’t scoring that well against our half-court defense, but they were being relentless on the glass. We really have to shore that up to get better.”
Harvard also struggled holding onto the ball, coughing up a season-high 20 turnovers, which turned into 18 Fordham points. Rookie point guard Siyani Chambers committed a career-high six turnovers.
“One of the things we’re going to go up against a lot...is people are really going to try to disrupt him,” said Amaker of the freshman. “They pretty much recognize that we are going to play him as much as we can, and he’s going to get tired, and he’s going to make some silly turnovers as a freshman, and he certainly did that today. But we need him on the floor.”
In the first half, the Crimson battled back from a 21-10 deficit to take a 36-33 lead into the break. Travis fueled the Crimson’s late push, recording all 12 of his first-half points in a stretch of 4:52.
“They were kind of losing track of me sometimes on the box out,” Travis said. “We would have Siyani or Wes penetrate so deep. Whenever you have deep penetration, that leaves a lot of room for weak-side rebounds.”
Harvard extended its advantage throughout the second half, going up by 12 with 4:45 to go off a Saunders free throw.
But Fordham made a late push, cutting the Crimson’s lead to four on two occasions. With 3:18 to play, Rams guard Branden Frazier finished a layup to make it 63-59, but Chambers answered, drilling his third triple of the game to extend Harvard’s lead to seven.
The Crimson went up eight off a Saunders free throw with 1:39 to play, but the Rams cut the lead back down to four after Ryan Rhoomes and Frazier scored back-to-back baskets.
The Rams then sent Okolie to the line, where the rookie knocked down both free throws to put the Crimson up six with 33 ticks remaining. On the other end, Rhoomes got to the line with 20 seconds left and hit one of two attempts.
Travis and Saunders went four for four from the line on the Crimson’s next two possessions to seal the victory.
—Staff writer Martin A. Kessler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.