NOTEBOOK: Amaker Opts for New Lineup in Win Against Fordham

Entering the Saturday afternoon contest that pitted the Harvard men’s basketball team against Fordham, three of the Crimson’s five starters had seen a combined 32 minutes on the court in their careers.

By the end of Harvard’s 73-64 win, that number had more than doubled to 70.

After an 85-78 loss to Vermont on Tuesday night, Harvard coach Tommy Amaker decided to forgo his usual starting lineup in favor of a much younger crew of starters. Rookies Mike Hall, Evan Cummins, and Agunwa Okolie earned their first career starts against the Rams, joining freshman point guard Siyani Chambers and sophomore Wesley Saunders—both of whom have started all six of Harvard’s games in 2012-13.

“We wanted to go with the best defensive team,” Amaker said. “We weren’t pleased with how we guarded our last game, so we went with a very young team but guys that were giving us a lot of energy on the defensive end. I thought they did a magnificent job for the few minutes that they were in there.”

The trio saw just under four minutes of action before junior co-captain Laurent Rivard and sophomores Kenyatta Smith and Steve Moundou-Missi entered the game to complete the Crimson’s usual starting lineup.

Okolie—who went on to play a total of 27 minutes in the contest—in particular had a breakout performance, notching a career-high 11 points and seven rebounds on three-of-five shooting from the field. The freshman also converted five-of-six free throws.

“You can see [Okolie’s] level of confidence and composure growing,” Amaker said. “He’s a young guy and starting, and all of the sudden he’s out there. I thought he did a tremendous job for us, and I told him that in the locker room.”

Harvard’s bench—led on Saturday by sophomore Jonah Travis and Rivard—contributed 32 points to Harvard’s total, including 20 points in the first half, as 11 players saw the court in the win over Fordham.

JONAH OF ARC

With 11:23 to play in the first half, Harvard trailed the Rams, 21-10. But just 6:17 later—after an impressive 19-2 run—the Crimson was back on top, 29-23. Travis led the charge during this period, scoring four layups and all 12 of his first-half points. The sophomore added four rebounds during that time as well, two on offense and two on defense.

“I was very impressed with Jonah Travis’ minutes, and what he gave us,” Amaker said. “I thought he gave us what Jonah’s been in the past. I’m so happy to see him get back to that, to being a blue collar, lunch pail kind of guy. He was really tough for us when we needed that.”

Travis paced his team with 12 rebounds on the night—including four offensive boards—on the way to his first double-double of the young season. On the game, Travis shot five for seven from the field and added six more points on nine trips to the line to finish the game with 16 points—second only to Saunders’ 17.

After Saturday’s contest, Travis is averaging 9.1 points per game, fourth on the Crimson, and a team-high six rebounds per game.

HARD IN THE PAINT

Although the Crimson was eventually able to pull out the win, Harvard’s defense—which gave up its highest points total since 2010 against Vermont on Tuesday—struggled in the paint for a portion of Saturday’s contest.

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