After leading Holy Cross by 14 after 25 minutes of play, the Harvard men’s basketball team found itself down by one with 5:43 to go in Saturday’s contest at Lavietes Pavilion.
But after a free throw from sophomore Wesley Saunders and a clutch three-pointer from co-captain Christian Webster in the following 1:21, Harvard (6-4) earned back a lead it would not relinquish.
Holy Cross (7-5) got the game within two points with 1:02 to play, but five made free throws—one from Saunders and four from junior co-captain Laurent Rivard helped the Crimson seal the game, 72-65.
“It was too close for comfort,” Webster said. “If we keep having games like this, my blood pressure’s going to be bad. But I think we played well overall.”
After Harvard opened the second half by knocking down its first seven attempts—including two early threes from Rivard and a two-handed dunk from sophomore Steve Moundou-Missi—Holy Cross went on a 15-0 run to close the gap, reclaiming the lead with just under six left to play.
“Coming off of exams and this time of year, things can be interesting, and things can be a struggle,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “I thought both teams really played hard and gave a great effort to win this basketball game.”
Instrumental to the Holy Cross comeback was the play of Crusaders’ junior forward Dave Dudzinski, who finished with a game-high 22 points. The big man scored his team’s final four points of the second-half run on a jump shot and two free throws, the last of which put Holy Cross up by one.
“[The Crusaders] are a strong, physical team up front,” Amaker said. “They have some veteran guys up front. They played like it, and we expected that. You look at our guys who we’re playing up front, and we’re all very young…. You can see how their team has come together.”
After Holy Cross claimed its first lead since midway through the first half at 60-59, the lead changed hands six times.
Following an Eric Obeysekere dunk that brought the Crusaders within two, Harvard pushed its advantage to five with 2:50 to play when rookie point guard Siyani Chambers—who ended the contest with 14 points and five assists in 40 minutes of play—converted an and-one layup.
“[Chambers] is a competitor; he’s a winner,” Amaker said. “That big basket he made, the and-one…just a huge basket there.”
“He's really confident; he has a lot of poise for a young guy, and you don’t really see that often,” Webster added. “I call him ‘Little Man’ because he’s little, but he’s like a man…. He’s just a general on the court; that’s just his game.”
Neither team was able to pull away by more than two possessions until Rivard’s final free throw with four seconds left pushed Harvard’s advantage to seven.
“It just came down to clamping down on defense,” Webster said. “Coach Amaker always harps on defense, and that’s what it came down to, just getting those stops, getting rebounds, getting it up the floor, and getting easy buckets.”
Despite starting the contest shooting 0 of 9 from the field, the Crimson led Holy Cross by nine at the break. Harvard shot 14 of 19 from the field to close the half and went into the locker room leading, 36-27.