NOTEBOOK: Saunders Shines Early at Yale
NEW HAVEN, Conn.—It took Wesley Saunders one trip to New Haven as a starter to become national news.
The sophomore forward came out firing with eight points in the first 10 minutes of Saturday’s contest, but the highlight of his night came halfway through the first period. After coming down with an offensive board, Saunders received a pass on the perimeter and drove to the basket, beating sophomore guard Armani Cotton off the dribble and flying over sophomore forward Brandon Sherrod to put the ball home.
“That was sick,” sophomore forward Steve Mondou-Missi said. “It was unbelievable. I didn’t think at first he was going to dunk it, but he just went over the little one, and he dunked it.”
The dunk—slotted at number three on that evening’s SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays—accounted for two of Saunders’s 14 points in Harvard’s (17-7, 9-1 Ivy) win over Yale (11-16, 5-5) at Payne Whitney Gym, 72-66.
But after the dunk—Saunders’s second of the night—he slowed down. Despite accounting for more than a third of the Crimson’s first half points on five-of-five shooting from the paint, Saunders did not score in the final nine minutes of the period.
After failing to complete two consecutive three-point plays with nine minutes to play, Saunders was held scoreless until the start of the second half, when he hit a driving layup for his final two points of the game.
Although Saunders had scoreless stretches, he contributed on the boards and finished second on the team with five rebounds. The sophomore also chipped in four assists, finishing behind only freshman point guard Siyani Chambers, who had seven.
Sophomore forward Kenyatta Smith’s breakout weekend—34 points and 16 blocks against Penn and Princeton—earned him a starting spot, but it didn’t get him much farther.
Looking to make plays in the paint at the start of the game, the Crimson fed Smith down low on its first three possessions. After the center went one-of-three and allowed two layups from Yale’s leading scorer Matt Townsend in the first three minutes, Harvard looked elsewhere for offensive output but continued to play in the post.
The Crimson was held to only one three in the first half, junior co-captain Laurent Rivard’s first points of the night at the seven-minute mark.
But despite going one-of-seven from deep in the first period, the traditionally strong three-point shooting team—averaging 40 percent on the season—went to the line 14 times.
“There is no better offense that you can run than getting fouled all the time,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “We will trade free throw opportunities for threes, and if we can get fouls from our opponent, it’s an easier shot from the foul line.”
Harvard kept to its tough inside game in the second half, and the free throws it earned were crucial down the stretch. Up by three with two minutes left, the Crimson added six points from the stripe—with leading scorer Moundou-Missi accounting for four.
After co-captain Christian Webster heated up from the arc and sunk three treys in the final 10 minutes, the Crimson finished the game with a 6-of-16 mark from deep.