Fresh off of a one-point loss on the road to a heavily favored St. Mary’s squad, the Harvard men’s basketball team kicked off the New Year in dominant fashion against non-conference competitor Rice, claiming a 92-62 victory Saturday at Lavietes Pavilion.
“We’re very pleased to have a chance to bounce back after an up-and-down road trip that we had out West,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “I thought our kids really invested in the opportunity and played well here today.”
With 13:15 to play in the first half, the Owls (3-10) crawled within three points of the Crimson (8-5), as Rice’s Austin Ramljak knocked down two free throws. But Harvard quickly responded and extended its lead, headed by an impressive shooting effort from junior co-captain Laurent Rivard.
After a scoreless stretch of 3:27 and 10:52 left in the opening frame, Rivard knocked down his first of five three-pointers on the night, initiating a 15-2 Harvard run that put his team up, 28-12, with 7:25 left in the half.
“[Rivard] is such a big weapon for us, and he always has been,” Amaker said. “I think he got into a good rhythm.”
From there the Crimson was able to maintain its stride, eventually blowing out the visiting Owls by a 30-point margin. Before Saturday’s contest, Harvard’s season high points total was just 79—a solid 13 points below its mark against Rice.
“Intensity on the defensive end and keeping going for 40 minutes are some things we didn’t do at St. Mary’s,” Rivard said. “But today we did, and we kept our lead.”
At the close of the first half—a period in which the Crimson hit 61.5 percent of its shots from the field—Harvard had amassed a 43-21 advantage.
The Owls shot just 25 percent in the opening frame, with leading scorer Tamir Jackson—who averages 17.5 points—ending the period with just four points. Jackson finished the contest shooting 4 of 12 from the field for a total of 14 points.
“That’s what we talked about…how much we were going to invest and commit to play well, and I think we did that very well defensively,” Amaker said. “The second half shooting percentage went up for them dramatically from the first half, but I thought overall our defense was outstanding.”
After two consecutive scores from sophomore Jonah Travis to start the second frame, Rice never came closer than a 23-point deficit, and the Crimson was able to stretch its heavy advantage to 30 before the end of the game.
“We need to find a rhythm here with our team,” Amaker said. “I think we were able to do that very nicely here this afternoon and gain a bit of confidence as we do things over stretches. It was important for us to feel like we played a very good 40 minutes of basketball today.”
Rivard and sophomore wing Wesley Saunders paced all scorers on the night, contributing 21 points apiece, while sophomore Kenyatta Smith posted a career-high 11 points for the Crimson, shooting four of four from the field and three of five from the free-throw line.
“Kenyatta Smith, in his minutes off the bench, was quality,” Amaker said. “He performed nicely for us, blocked shots, and scored on the interior.”
After just five minutes of play, rookie point guard Siyani Chambers—who ended the contest with a double-double on 14 points and a career-high 10 assists—had already amassed three assists, as Harvard knocked down its first six shots of the game. But despite his prowess in most aspects of the game Saturday afternoon, Chambers had a game-high six turnovers.