A lot is different about the Harvard men’s basketball team this season, but one thing remains the same—the Crimson continues to have Boston College’s number.
Led by a career-high 21 points and six assists from rookie point guard Siyani Chambers, Harvard won its fifth straight over its intracity rival, 79-63, on Tuesday night.
Harvard (4-3) went into the break leading just 31-29 but dominated the second half, outscoring the Eagles (3-5) by 14.
Sophomore Wesley Saunders contributed 18 points and classmate Jonah Travis had 12 on the night to give the Crimson a dozen straight wins over Boston-area opponents.
“We mentioned to our kids that we just thought this was a moment—that if we could somehow play well here this evening, it would give us a little momentum as we move forward with our non-conference schedule,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “So I’m very pleased with our ballclub, with our effort in the second half. I thought the defense was outstanding.”
The Crimson scored the first eight points out of the break to begin a 26-7 run that expanded its lead to 20.
Saunders found junior co-captain Laurent Rivard for a right corner three to start the scoring. At the other end, Travis had a steal and ran the length of the court for a two-handed slam. Chambers then had a steal and finished an and-one layup to stretch the Crimson lead to 10 before Boston College’s Ryan Anderson—who led all scorers with 23 points—stopped the run with a dunk.
“I was just taking what the defense gave me,” Chambers said. “I was just trying to make plays for my teammates, and then [things] opened up for me.”
The Crimson offense continued to do what it wanted with ease as the half went on. After Anderson’s dunk, Harvard went on a 18-4 run that began when Rivard was fouled on a three-point attempt and hit all the ensuing free throws.
Chambers and sophomore Steve Moundou-Missi then executed a give-and-go off an inbounds play under the basket that led to a swooping lefty layup by the rookie. Following that, the point guard had a no-look transition pass to Saunders for a layup, Saunders found Moundou-Missi for a basket underneath, and Webster and Saunders hit back-to-back threes.
“Wesley [is] a do-it-all player for us,” Amaker said. “If he’s not the best all-around player in our league, he’s one of the very few in the conversation.”
Chambers capped the run by taking the Eagles’ Olivier Hanlan one-on-one, hitting a short floater over him, drawing the foul, and hitting the free-throw to extend Harvard’s lead to 57-37.
“I thought Siyani Chambers was magnificent,” Amaker said. “With his ball-handling, scoring, quarterbacking our team, he certainly didn’t play like a freshman. I’m very pleased with his progress [and] his performance. I thought he was the difference for us, without a doubt.”
Late in the game, Harvard extended its lead to 22 at 79-57 on an emphatic Chambers alley-oop to Travis and a Moundou-Missi tip-in. The Eagles ended the contest on a 6-0 run, but by then, Harvard was well on its way to its second-straight win.
“Even though they’re a BCS team [and] an ACC team...we’re trying to get better,” Amaker said. “Regardless of who we play, it’s going to be a meaningful game for us, as we’re trying to find a rhythm, find different options for our team, and grow as a team right now.”
Amaker tried to do just that on Tuesday night by implementing his second-straight new starting lineup, with this one featuring four perimeter players and Travis at center. Travis began the game with a short jumper and a layup, which was followed by a three from the right wing from co-captain Christian Webster and a short Saunders floater to give Harvard an early 9-6 lead.
The teams went back-and-forth for the majority of the half. The Crimson had a 9-0 run midway through that Saunders started with a jumper. Back-to-back blocks by rookie Agunwa Okolie at the other end led to a Rivard three and a Chambers transition jumper before a Webster layup put the Crimson up, 23-17.
The Eagles answered with a 7-1 run to tie the game with 5:05 to go, and the Crimson went into the break with a two-point lead. But Harvard controlled the game in the second half, helping it earn a double-digit win despite being outshot, 58.1 percent to 54.9 percent, from the floor.
“There’s a mental toughness on both sides of the ball that they had and we didn’t,” BC coach Steve Donahue said. “When you look at the box score, it’s kind of mind-boggling that you can put up those types of [shooting] numbers and lose so handily.”
—Staff writer Scott A. Sherman can be reached at email@example.com.