MEMPHIS—In the second half of the Harvard men's basketball team's matchup with Memphis, freshman point guard Siyani Chambers took it inside the paint and secured a layup for the Crimson, leveling the score for the first time at 44-44.
After a defensive rebound with eight minutes remaining, the visitors looked to take their first lead of the game. Sophomore forward Moundou-Missi secured the Harvard lead with a dunk, but the moment was short-lived, as Tigers forward D.J. Stephens answered with two points of his own for Memphis. The Tigers (14-3) never allowed another Crimson (9-6) lead, ultimately winning, 60-50.
“I was really proud of the guys—how we fought back to really make it a game and actually take the lead in this game,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “We did some really good things in the second half. The way we started the game, we were knocked on our heels with their energy and their effort right away. I thought that was the difference.”
Harvard had a tough go of things in the first half, committing 13 turnovers and going 5 of 19 on field-goal attempts before heading into the locker room at the end of the first period down 32-16 at the FedEx Forum.
“I felt like we weren’t aggressive,” co-captain Christian Webster said. “We weren’t doing what we’ve been doing the whole season. Obviously on the backboard they got too many offensive rebounds, and we weren’t able to get in the paint at all, and that really hurt us a lot.”
Webster led the Crimson in the first half with two steals and five points, three of which came from an on-target shot far outside the arc with 12:26 remaining in the half. Junior co-captain Laurent Rivard sunk the Crimson’s second and final three-pointer of the period in the 15th minute of the first half.
Harvard's defense struggled to defend freshman forward Shaq Goodwin, who led the Tigers with eight points and five assists heading into halftime. The Crimson failed to protect the paint, allowing Memphis players to score 20 points down low.
Harvard finished the period shooting 26 percent, well below the Memphis field goal percentage of 36. The Crimson only registered one offensive rebound.
“[Memphis] played very well,” Amaker said. “I think they came out and played incredibly hard and put us on our heels…and I thought it really hurt us right away. We needed to take care of the ball, and we needed to box out and keep them off the backboard.”
Harvard gained momentum in the second period with an 11-0 run spanning four minutes. Chambers scored two points on a jumper with 16:08 minutes remaining, bringing the score to 36-24.
Memphis failed to answer offensively, and sophomore forward Wesley Saunders extended the Crimson scoring streak with a three-pointer and a layup heading into the fifth minute of the half. The Tigers’ Joe Jackson cut the Harvard streak short by finishing an old-fashioned three-point play, putting the Crimson deficit at seven points.
“We just tried to relax, just play our game,” Webster said. “It wasn’t really about X’s and O’s. It was just about digging in and actually playing. I feel like we were tense [in the first half]. I don’t know if it was the big arena or what, but I felt like we were not being ourselves, and that’s what we tried to do in the second half.”
With five straight points, Rivard decreased the Tigers' lead to five, 44-39. After Saunders sunk two free throws of his own, the Tigers suffered a turnover on offense, allowing the Crimson another attempt on offense.
“I thought we showed a lot of fight—a lot of toughness—just to get back into the game, “ Webster said. “And with a team like Memphis, you can’t dig a hole for yourself.”
A dunk from Crawford with six seconds remaining was the final basket, ending the game with a 10-point Crimson loss.
“I think [the Tigers] are as good as advertised,” Amacker said. “They’re explosive, they’re athletic."
Saunders led Harvard with 11 points and three steals, while Moundou-Missi chipped in with 10 points. Chambers directed the offense, registering seven assists by the end of the matchup, but also finishing with seven turnovers.
—Staff writer Kelley Guinn McArtor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.