ANCHORAGE, ALASKA—After an unconvincing second-half effort against Colorado dealt the Harvard men’s basketball team its first loss of the season earlier this week, the Crimson suffered no such late letdown against another foe from the Centennial State. Riding the physical presence of junior forward Steve Moundou-Missi, Harvard (5-1) won its opener at the Carrs/Safeway Great Alaska Shootout, dispatching Denver (0-3), 68-60, at Sullivan Arena in Anchorage, Alaska.
Moundou-Missi, coming off a pair of strong outings against Colorado and Bryant, continued his solid form, overpowering the Pioneer defense for 20 points and eight rebounds in a setting about as far removed from Cambridge, Mass. as the United States has to offer. The Crimson looked for Moundou-Missi in the post throughout the game, as he found himself consistently matched up against smaller opponents.
“They were switching on defense, so the post was open, and we got teammates like [junior guard] Wesley [Saunders] who are going to pass you the ball every time,” Moundou-Missi said. “I thought we did a pretty good job with that.”
The Cameroonian big man was one facet in an overall dominant Harvard attack down low. The team scored 61 of its 68 points in the paint or from the foul line and only attempted three three-pointers on the night. Senior forward Kyle Casey added 10 points, and Saunders, the team’s leading scorer, penetrated and got to the rim with relative ease, finishing with 19 points and nine rebounds on 8-for-13 shooting.
Both Saunders and Moundou-Missi bulled their way past and through Pioneer defenders throughout the evening, scoring and getting to the free-throw line seemingly at will.
The Crimson also enjoyed a substantial rebounding advantage over the Pioneers, 38-23, for the game, including a 14-6 edge on the offensive glass.
“It says a lot about our guys maturing to recognize what we have in this particular matchup, in this particular game, and for us, it was trying to get the ball to the paint, get the ball inside, and get to the foul line,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said.
Harvard now moves on to play Wisconsin-Green Bay on Friday night, the first-ever appearance by an Ivy League team in the semifinals in the 36 years the tournament has been played. The Phoenix looked impressive in topping Pepperdine, 97-89, in its first-round matchup, and its size will make it more difficult for the Crimson to impose itself physically as it did Thursday night.
“We recognize they’re a tough, physical basketball team and played very well here in their first game,” Amaker said.
After Denver scored the first five points of Thursday's game, the Crimson put together a 19-6 run to build an advantage it would retain for the rest of the game. A Casey tip-in just before the buzzer gave Harvard a 10-point lead at half, and though a Brett Olson jumper pulled the Pioneers to within four with just under 12 minutes remaining, Denver would get no closer the rest of the game.
The Pioneers, ranked second in the Summit League preseason poll, failed to capitalize on their opportunities, particularly from behind the three-point line, where they shot just 4 for 18 despite a number of open looks. In the first half, Denver was successful running its cutting offense, which yielded some wide-open looks at the rim, but better communication from the Harvard defense helped it lock down on the many Pioneer back cuts as the game wore on.
“We knew that we weren’t going to be on our side of the court in terms of having our bench help us out talking through coverages and switches,” Saunders said. “I think we kind of took it upon ourselves to talk more and really stay engaged in the game, and I think we did a really great job of that in the second half.”
Sophomore point guard Siyani Chambers was uncharacteristically careless with the ball at times, committing a season-high five turnovers and making just two of his nine field goal attempts. Co-captain Laurent Rivard was also kept quiet on his quest to break the all-time three-point shooting school record, missing his only three-point attempt of the game.
Co-captain Brandyn Curry, who played 27 minutes in last Sunday’s game against Colorado after missing the previous three contests, was not in uniform. Amaker said that his status was “very doubtful” for the rest of the tournament, and that he was out indefinitely, having “probably” aggravated his left foot injury against the Buffaloes.
—Staff writer Andrew R. Mooney can be reached at email@example.com.