NEW HAVEN, Conn.—Much like in November, when the two football programs met at Harvard Stadium, the Harvard and Yale men’s basketball Saturday matchup—a 72-66 Crimson victory—was a heated affair from start to finish.
It started from the tip, with ringing chants of “Harvard sucks” echoing throughout the gymnasium. It continued into the second half, when Bulldog Austin Morgan knocked down a three to tie the game and mimicked junior co-captain Laurent Rivard’s celebration on his way up the court. It peaked with Javier Duren’s late flagrant foul on freshman guard Siyani Chambers, a push with four seconds left that sent Chambers careening into the Bulldog bench.
“We will get a chance to honestly evaluate it better as we watch the film but I thought we were tough when we needed to be,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “Certainly we did some things we didn’t do against Brown, and I was very pleased with that. I think there are a lot of things we carried from the last game that we didn’t do well and fixed them.”
After frontcourt teammates and sophomore forwards Steve Moundou-Missi and Kenyatta Smith carried the Crimson (17-7, 9-1 Ivy) in double-digit wins over Penn and Princeton the weekend before, it was the guards’ turn to shoulder much of the load against Yale (11-16, 5-5 Ivy).
Although Moundou-Missi scored 17 points on six-of-seven shooting, the four Harvard guards—Chambers, Rivard, sophomore Wesley Saunders, and co-captain Christian Webster—combined for 51 of the team’s 72 points. Amaker said that the Bulldogs were able to throw Smith off his game with more physical play.
“We want to go inside,” Amaker said. “We want to play inside out, and we didn’t get a lot from it but we are trying to see if we can get the ball in the paint from dribble or by pass for Kenyatta because he is aggressive on the interior. Knowing he has been a force for our team, they played very physical and very hard and made it very difficult for him to maneuver and to get shots.”
Rivard shook off a 0-of-7 night from the field on Friday against Brown to make three treys Saturday, combining with Webster to knock down five in the second half from beyond the arc. Chambers contributed seven assists along with 14 points, hitting two free throws in the final 90 seconds to help seal the deal.
“It’s always exciting to play in that kind of environment,” Moundou-Missi said. “That’s what you want as a college basketball player. I think we got better today and we are taking a step forward to what we can become as a team. It showed our mental toughness and we battled through the game.”
In the first half, the Crimson struggled from deep, making one of seven, but Saunders poured in 12 points to keep Harvard narrowly ahead of its rival at the break.
After carrying a 34-28 lead into halftime, the Crimson extended the lead to seven on a Rivard three with 16 minutes left to play.
But Duren and Bulldog forward Justin Sears went on their own 9-0 run, putting Yale up two with 13 minutes to go. After the Bulldogs extended the lead to six, Harvard mounted a 7-0 run on two Chambers assists and an and-one to take a 58-57 lead it would never relinquish.
“It’s always tough against them,” Moundou-Missi said. “You have to give them credit for their toughness, but you need to battle through it, and that’s what has us in first. It was a good game, and [while] I wouldn’t call it a statement, it is a great win for us.”
The Bulldogs began the game on a hot streak, scoring on four of their first seven possessions to take a 9-5 lead at the under-sixteen timeout.
But after the timeout, Saunders scored 10 of the Crimson’s next 13 points to help Harvard take an 18-13 lead. His high-rising dunk over two Yale defenders—extending his arm to slam the ball home even as he fell to the hardwood—energized the Crimson faithful, but Saunders did not score in the last nine minutes as Harvard fell cold from the field.
The Crimson has now won four in a row, sweeping Penn and Princeton last weekend for only the second time in eight tries and defeating Brown and Yale on the road over the weekend to maintain the 1.5-game lead over the Princeton Tigers.
—Staff writer David Freed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @CrimsonDPFreed.