PROVIDENCE, R.I.—For a majority of the first half, it wasn’t a question of who had more points, Harvard or Brown, but whether the Bears had more points or turnovers.
It was the latter, but a Brown run midway through the second period enabled the Bears (10-14, 4-6 Ivy) to close the lead to single-digits for the first time since the score was 11-2 less than six minutes into the contest. Though the Crimson (17-7, 9-1) would win the game, 65-47, Friday night at the Pizzitola Sports Center, its sizable advantage had to be regained in the last fourth of the contest.
After 3:43 of radio silence from his squad’s offense to begin the second period followed by an and-one from teammate freshman Cedric Kuakumensah, junior co-captain Sean McGonagill fueled a 12-3 Brown run by hitting back-to-back shots—a jumper and a spinning layup.
Harvard’s only response in the next 5:07 was a free throw by sophomore Wesley Saunders and a layup from classmate Kenyatta Smith. The Bears, on the other hand, followed McGonagill’s baskets with a baby-runner thrown up by co-captain Matt Sullivan, a steal and a resulting layup, once again from Sullivan, and one more McGonagill jumper from the right wing.
What was once a battle between Brown and itself, was now one between the two schools. With just over 10 minutes remaining in the game, the Crimson’s lead was down to six, and its strongest defensive presence, Smith, was sidelined with four fouls.
“They’re a really resilient team,” Saunders said. “So they don’t get fazed when they get down by any margin, as we’ve seen before. That’s been a trend our whole season, letting teams back into the game, but you have to give credit to them for [continuing to] fight.”
But, in the next five minutes, Harvard was able to regain its substantial lead by doubling the Bears’ offensive output during that stretch. Thanks to free throws and layups from sophomore Steve Mondou-Missi and Saunders, the Crimson found breathing room again with 4:53 remaining and a 51-39 advantage. Harvard could coast the rest of the game, and did so, stretching its lead to the final margin of 18.
“We were outclassed by a better team tonight” Brown coach Mike Martin said. “Are they a better team than us? Absolutely. Should we compete better than we did tonight? Absolutely. It’s unacceptable. Right now those guys are the standard in our league.... They showed that tonight.”
The opening segment of the game seemed to emphasize Martin’s point as the Bears had already accumulated 10 turnovers by the time it knocked in its fifth point at the 7:58 mark. The home squad would go on to make four more mistakes before intermission and, accordingly, went into the locker room with a 29-18 deficit.
Crimson coach Tommy Amaker, when asked whether the turnovers were results of Harvard’s defensive pressure or Brown miscues, stated that it was both.
“I thought we defended fairly hard, fairly well in the first half in particular,” Amaker said. “We were able to get a few turnovers and run-outs that enabled us to have that wide margin that we had, but I’m sure [Martin] would probably say there were some errors on their part, some lack of execution…I think [it was] combination of the two.”
The Crimson began the first period on a 21-5 run, instigated at the outset by Smith, the unexpected star of last weekend’s play. Smith opened the night with two baby hooks and a blocked shot before leaving the game in foul trouble.
“I thought the way we started the game was critical,” Amaker said. “We got out to a pretty sizable margin that allowed us to have…a comfortable cushion.”
As the contest approached halftime, the Bears would test that cushion, continually forcing their way to the charity stripe. In the final eight minutes before intermission, Brown went to the line 10 times, decreasing its deficit to only 11.
While Saunders and freshman point guard Siyani Chambers led Harvard’s offense on the night with 19 and 14 points, respectively, it was their defense on McGonagill and Sullivan that drew praise from Amaker. Saunders drew the assignment of Sullivan, the Bears’ leading scorer, and held the senior to just four points on 28.6 percent shooting. Chambers, meanwhile, kept McGonagill to 10 points and forced him to cough up the ball six times.
“We’re pleased with the defensive effort without a doubt” Amaker said. “We’re talking about trying to improve, we’re trying to keep the focus…. This time of year if you can still find ways to improve, that’s a huge sign, a very positive sign for this ball club.”
—Staff writer Juliet Spies-Gans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.