When Princeton came into Lavietes Pavilion on Saturday night, the game not only featured a matchup of the two top teams in the league, but also the conference’s two top players—Harvard’s Wesley Saunders and the Tigers’ Ian Hummer.
Entering the weekend’s contests, the Ivies were led in scoring by those two, with the former holding a 1.4-point advantage at 17.0 points per game. And while Saunders, a sophomore, is ranked fourth in conference in field goal percentage, Hummer, a senior, trails him at the number five position. The two are separated by only one other player in assists per game as well, and have comparable statistics in many other categories.
So, on Saturday, when their two squads stepped on the floor, it was no surprise to see Saunders match up against Hummer on the first possession of the evening.
The first two interactions between the two seemed to illustrate their close standing, as Saunders first forced a Hummer turnover and Hummer returned the favor with a made jump shot the next time he touched the ball.
“Hummer is a nightmare of a matchup and a warrior…. He is a very tough guy to guard,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “He’s physical; he’s always on the move. He’s very active. You can’t let your guard down for one second on the defensive end. Wesley did as well as anyone could do.”
Following a Princeton adjustment that placed Hummer further inside, a strategy that took advantage of his size relative to Saunders, the latter was moved off of the bigger Hummer, and the assignment was given instead to Crimson bigs, namely sophomore forward Steve Mondou-Missi.
Hummer ended up with 18 points and seven rebounds on the night, shooting 7-of-14 from the field and four-of-four from the charity stripe. Saunders notched 11 points, only two-thirds of his normal output, but tallied five assists along with two steals.
TWO BIGS/TOO BIG
With 7:16 remaining in the second half, an unusual lineup appeared for Harvard. After Saunders picked up his fourth foul, he was subbed out in favor of Mondou-Missi. With sophomore big Kenyatta Smith already on the court, the Crimson then featured a lineup with two players who log time at the center position.
“Different guys have been able to step in and step forward,” said Amaker, referring to his team’s adaptation to this lineup. “It’s been a good calling card for this group…. We thought we could get [Saunders] out and preserve that last foul as long as we could. Our kids did a good job of playing without [him].”
The two-big lineup lasted a total of three minutes and 36 seconds, during which time Harvard went on a 10-4 run to take a double-digit lead, 62-48. Mondou-Missi and Smith combined for half of those Crimson points, five of their total 28 points for the game. The two amassed seven rebounds apiece, and Smith collected six blocks.
“I’ve mentioned to our players that Kenyatta was ready for an opportunity, and he embraced it…” Amaker explained. “[And] Steve, his energy and effort off the bench, he’s a sixth starter and has been sacrificing himself to do whatever we need for our team.”
Saturday night’s game marked the second consecutive start for Smith, over which period he has shot 94.5 percent from the field, put up 34 points, and swatted 16 blocks.
“I always knew he was a great player,” Mondou-Missi said of Smith. “I always believed in him, the team believed in him, Coach believed in him. He’s done a great job…. He’s a great player, [and] he’s shown it the last two games.”
In a game that often comes down to inches, the measurement of 15-feet was more important for Harvard against the Tigers. For the first 33 minutes and seven seconds of the night, the Crimson did not miss a single shot from the free throw line, going a perfect eight-for-eight thanks to shots from both Smith and Saunders. While Mondou-Missi eventually broke the streak, his four-for-six from the charity stripe was almost 10 percent better than his in-conference average for the season.
The importance of free throws down the stretch was accentuated by several late Harvard mistakes—in the final 8:30 of the contest, Harvard hit eight out of 10 of its free takes, while turning the ball over four times.
And, when Princeton employed a strategy of intentionally fouling Mondou-Missi, hitting from the charity stripe became the Crimson’s only offensive option. Fortunately for Harvard, it ended the game shooting 16-of-18 from the line, good for 88.9 percent—its best performance thus far in Ivy play.
—Staff Writer Juliet Spies-Gans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.