A 20-point lead was not enough for Memphis. An increasingly rowdy crowd of 16,204 couldn’t do the trick either. But a fourth foul on freshman point guard Siyani Chambers? That was all it took to finish off the Crimson, as the Tigers dealt their visitors a 60-50 defeat.
With just under six minutes left at the FedEx Forum, the Harvard men’s basketball team was on a roll. After trailing, 36-16, earlier in the half, the Crimson rallied to knot the game at 48. During that stretch, Chambers registered five assists and knocked down two jumpers of his own, contributing directly to nearly half of his squad’s points during the run and facilitating numerous other baskets by beating pressure and finding open teammates.
After getting Harvard back into a game it seemed to have lost in the first half, Chambers was not allowed to finish the job. On Memphis’ first possession after sophomore Steve Moundou-Missi tied the game at 48, Chambers was called for a foul for being too physical with the ball-handler, his fourth of the contest. Worried that his point guard would foul out of the game, Crimson coach Tommy Amaker was forced to take Chambers out of the game.
“I was disappointed when he got that fourth,” Amaker said. “He’s got to be a little better, more disciplined, not to pick up that fourth, but as fate would have it, it happened, so we tried to get him out.”
If the freshman’s value to the team hadn’t been clear during the comeback, it became evident over the next three minutes. In his first three possessions as the team’s primary ball-handler, sophomore Wesley Saunders missed a tough shot and committed two turnovers. The Tigers took advantage of those mistakes with two fast-break buckets to open up a four-point lead.
With just over two minutes left, Amaker put Chambers back in the game. The magic was gone though, and the rookie didn’t have enough time to lead his team on another comeback, as Memphis pulled away for what would be a 10-point victory.
“I was trying to save him, but we were not very good when we don’t have him on the floor,” Amaker said. “We knew if we didn’t have him on the floor it was going to be hard for us to run offense and handle the ball against their pressure.”
BIG MEN ON CAMPUS
The challenges Harvard faced Saturday were clear before the game even started. During the team introductions, the Crimson couldn’t ignore the size deficit they were going to face when they stepped on the court. Five Tigers loomed taller than 6’8,” and Memphis featured three players weighing in at 240 pounds or heavier. On the other side, no Harvard starter is listed at taller than 6’6,” and sophomore Jonah Travis was the heaviest in the starting five, listed at 225.
The size difference played out visibly on the glass, where the Tigers brought down 14 offensive rebounds and tallied 17 second-chance points. Many of those points came on put-back dunks that electrified the team and its fans.
“They were just tremendous at climbing the backboard and having second-chance opportunities,” Amaker said. “We could never consistently keep them off the backboard. The kid [D.J.] Stephens is an incredible athlete and his tip-dunk plays I thought were momentum plays, energy plays, for his team.”
Meanwhile, the Crimson only grabbed two offensive boards and had four second-chance points in the contest.
Memphis also used its size to alter Harvard’s shots down low, blocking eight shots and forcing the Crimson into tougher shots the rest of the time. The Crimson had trouble adjusting to the Tigers’ size, which lead to its early shooting woes. Harvard was more successful in the second half, but, in the end, they couldn’t generate enough good offensive looks against Memphis’ defense.
BACK TO THE IVIES
After getting a taste of big-time college ball, the Crimson will now head back to Ivy play for the duration of the season. The experience of playing a talent-laden team in front of a big-time crowd will prove invaluable, even if Harvard can’t boast the road upset on its resume come March.
“I think [this game] will help us a lot,” co-captain Christian Webster said. “We’re not going to see a team like Memphis in our league. Just playing this caliber team and going back to play the Dartmouth’s and Penn’s…we’ll fare a lot better.”
Memphis coach Josh Pastner also said that the Crimson will see success in the Ancient Eight.
“Harvard’s good,” Pastner said. “They are very, very well coached. They’ve got good players. They are going to win the Ivy League. I think they will win it by a landslide. Not to put pressure on them but there is no question about it: They are good.”
—Staff writer Jacob D. H. Feldman can be reached at email@example.com.