NOTEBOOK: Men's Basketball Wins Battle Of Cold-Shooting Teams
PROVIDENCE, R.I.—At times, the Harvard men’s basketball team’s performance on Friday night seemed to leave the door open for a potential upset that would have shaken up the Ivy League standings.
But just as soon as Brown had capitalized on a Crimson dry spell to cut its deficit to six in the second half, the Bears’ self-destructive play prevented them from making things more interesting.
The crowd at the Pizzitola Sports Center in Providence, R.I., which had been mostly indifferent to the first 30 minutes of action, began to wake up as the home team put together a 12-3 run, turning what had threatened to be a blowout into a 39-33 game and calling to mind Brown’s furious comeback in Cambridge earlier this season.
From that point, the Bears’ momentum was effectively stopped by two missed free throws, two missed three-pointers, and a turnover, and Harvard (17-7, 9-1 Ivy) was able to once more steadily increase its advantage. It was the closest the Crimson would allow the Bears (10-14, 4-6) to get, finishing them off by a final tally of 65-47.
Though Harvard had an uncharacteristically poor shooting night, converting on only two of its 12 attempts from beyond the arc and 21 of 37 trips to the free throw line, it wasn’t going to take a superhuman effort to defeat a team that was having as many difficulties putting the ball in the hoop as Brown was.
The Bears were 1-for-14 from three-point range and shot just 37.2 percent from the field as a team. Combined with 19 turnovers—compared to six for the Crimson—Brown gave itself virtually no chance to take down heavily-favored Harvard, which, to its credit, defended the Bears tightly throughout the game.
“I thought our defense against the three-point line was one of the more credible things we were trying to accomplish tonight,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “Certainly, they missed a ton, as we did, from the three-point line.”
Once again, the Crimson offense was powered by Saunders, who submitted another performance to put him at the forefront of the Ivy Player of the Year discussion. Saunders finished with 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting, but it was his nine rebounds that most impressed his coach.
“I was very, very impressed with [his rebound total] because we’ve been on him about getting on the glass,” Amaker said. “That’s a big number for a wing player.”
Saunders’ night could have been even bigger had he been more efficient from the free throw line. Despite getting to the charity stripe 13 times, Saunders hit only five of his attempts, much to the delight of the Bears’ student section. However, he was able to quiet the jeering fans with a fast-break dunk that put the Crimson up 11 points with 8:40 remaining, putting an end to Brown’s comeback attempt.
Harvard played almost the entirety of Friday’s game with a four-guard lineup, as Saunders, Rivard, freshman Siyani Chambers, and captain Christian Webster all played at least 37 of the game’s 40 minutes.
Some of this was out of necessity—foul trouble plagued the Crimson bigs throughout the game. Coming off of his Ivy Player of the Week performance, sophomore Kenyatta Smith got the start ahead of sophomore Jonah Travis.
But Smith was on the court for only six minutes in the first half after picking up two quick fouls. The second half was a similar story, with Smith being whistled twice more in eight minutes and having to sit for the rest of the contest.
“He is a shot blocker, and he’s done that very well, but you need to still play defense and play before your man gets [the ball],” Amaker said. “I think sometimes as a great shot blocker you play behind, and Kenyatta was giving up too much post position.”
Sophomore Steve Moundou-Missi, Harvard’s first big man off the bench, also finished the game with four fouls.
After being a mainstay in the starting lineup for most of the season, Travis has seen his minutes cut drastically in the last week.
Travis was on the court for 11 total minutes in last weekend’s games against Penn and Princeton. Even with his teammates’ foul trouble, he received just 10 minutes against the Bears, finishing with three points and three rebounds.
—Staff Writer Andrew R. Mooney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mooneyar.