When the Harvard men’s basketball team welcomes Dartmouth to Lavietes Pavilion Saturday for the Crimson’s Ivy League home opener, the Big Green will look to prove once again that non-conference records can be misleading.
Despite having won five more games than Dartmouth before the start of Ancient Eight play, Harvard fell behind in the second half at Leede Arena two weeks ago, but clutch shooting down the stretch put the Crimson on top by 10 as freshman point guard Siyani Chambers netted a season-high 22 points.
“They’re going to think they can beat us, especially playing how we played against them last time,” co-captain guard Christian Webster said.
After the win against Dartmouth, Harvard closed out its non-conference schedule in Memphis last week. The Crimson mounted a second-half comeback after falling behind by 16 points at the half, but foul trouble late in the game allowed the favored Tigers to pull out a 60-50 win.
Harvard struggled when Chambers—the second-half catalyst in the win over Dartmouth and the Crimson’s second leading scorer with 12.7 points per game—was pulled late in the game after committing his fourth personal foul. When in the game, Chambers had trouble holding onto the ball, committing a season-high seven turnovers and failing to make up for it with only four points.
“We need to do better with taking care of the ball, we need to do better with keeping Dartmouth off the backboard, and we need to better in our post defense,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “I’m hopeful that we can see some improvements and some carryover from the second half of Memphis going into Dartmouth on Saturday.”
After the loss of its top four scorers from last season, the young team spent the first half of its schedule in search of its identity. While consistently relying on Chambers and sophomore wing Wes Saunders—who leads the team and the Ivy League with 16.1 points per game—the Crimson has depended on contributions from a number of players throughout the season.
The young squad has struggled with consistency, especially in keeping up the level of play for a full 40 minutes. In losses against Connecticut and Memphis, Harvard remained in contention well into the second half before allowing its opponents to run away and close out the game.
“[Inconsistency is] a factor and a function of youth,” Amaker said. “Usually consistency and youth don’t go hand in hand, and that’s kind of where we’ve been.”
On Saturday, the Crimson will have to contend with Dartmouth’s 6’9” leading scorer, Gabas Maldunas—who averages 11 points per game. In the first game against Harvard this year, the forward grabbed a team-high six rebounds and added 10 points in the paint.
The Big Green had four scorers in double digits that day, with freshmen forward Connor Boehm and guard Alex Mitola leading the way with 11 points each. But Dartmouth could not contend with a hot shooting Harvard offense, which went 27 for 43 from the field, shooting over 60 percent for the second straight game.
Through the first half of the season, the Big Green and the Crimson have been living out opposite stories. Harvard tops the Ivy League leaderboard in points per game and field goal percentage, while Dartmouth sits in last place in both categories.
With 13 games left to play, Amaker said Harvard is looking to take it one game at a time. In the Ivy League—where the Crimson will face each other team twice—one conference win or loss can make or break a title run.
“This part of the season is what really matters when it comes down to it,” Webster said. “Everybody is starting all over.”
Having faced off less than two weeks ago, both teams will look to improve on their last performances and learn from the result. With one Ivy League game in the books, Harvard will look to rebound from the loss against Memphis and start a three-game home stand with a win while the Big Green will look to build on its 82-40 blowout over Colby-Sawyer last week.
“Hopefully we can get off to a good start,” Amaker said. “If we can make sure we’re not picking up silly fouls especially in the early stages of the game, I would feel like we’ve done a pretty decent job to begin our conference home stand.”
—Staff writer Hope Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.