Though Senior Night at Lavietes Pavilion was delayed by a year for Kyle Casey and co-captain Brandyn Curry, taking the court was no less emotional.
Returning from a yearlong leave of absence at the beginning of the 2013-2014 season, the seniors overcame a slow start in their second-to-last home game to handily defeat Cornell (2-24, 1-11 Ivy), 72-47.
“We said, ‘Can you believe it?’” Curry said. “It’s [one of] our last time[s] suiting up at our home floor, but it didn’t hit us until they called our names at the court. [I] gave Kyle a hug and said, ‘This is it. It’s real now.’ The whole week we were busy with other stuff, so it didn’t hit until it was here. The moment [was] here.”
Although it was a matchup between the best and worst teams in the conference, the Crimson (24-4, 11-1) and the Big Red looked to be on equal footing through the first five minutes. All four eligible seniors—Tom Hamel, the squad’s fifth senior, is out for the season with a knee injury—were tapped to start, with Casey, Curry, and Dee Giger playing alongside co-captain Laurent Rivard and sophomore guard Siyani Chambers.
The Crimson looked to get it going early with a quick three-point attempt from Giger, but the shot went long. Casey could not finish on a feed under the net after Big Red junior Devin Cherry airballed from deep, and neither team got on the board in the first three minutes. Cornell freshman Darryl Smith finally broke the logjam, driving to the basket and finishing in traffic.
Cornell jumped out to a 4-0 lead and kept Harvard scoreless for close to five minutes before Chambers ignited the Crimson offense with a long ball of his own.
“We never really went out and practiced with that lineup,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “You expect some things like that, and some nerves. We settled in, and I thought we played with great poise and efficiency throughout.”
Despite opening the game shooting 0-of-5, the Crimson finished with a 51.1 percent mark from the field, better than either of last weekend’s games at Penn and Princeton. Led by Chambers, who went 4-of-6 from deep en route to 15 points, Harvard capitalized on gaps at the perimeter and hit eight threes, its highest mark since its last matchup against Cornell.
Up four with eight minutes to play in the opening period, the Crimson began to pull away with back-to-back threes from Casey and Chambers. Junior forward Steve Moundou-Missi closed out the half with two free throws to extend Harvard’s lead to 16.
Cornell got back into it after the break, and the two teams exchanged points for the first five minutes of the second period. Senior Dwight Tarwater chipped in six of his 10 points on two three-pointers within two minutes.
But the Crimson regained control with treys from Chambers and Rivard in quick succession, and after the five-minute mark, the Big Red never got within 16 points.
“[Cornell was] still fighting and competing, and they certainly did that at the beginning of the second half,” Amaker said. "We had a few possessions there that were sloppy, and we needed to correct them and halt the slide we had. I think it worked. We halted our slide right there.”
Wracked by injury, Cornell dressed only 10 players, all of whom saw playing time. After starting its four eligible seniors, Harvard used 15 of its players. Freshmen Matt Fraschilla and Zena Edosomwan both spent a minute on the court and racked up an assist and a field goal, respectively.
The Crimson dominated the glass, pulling down 34 rebounds to Cornell’s 18, more than doubling the Big Red’s total on the defensive boards. Junior forward Jonah Travis paced Harvard with five rebounds, while Smith chipped in four for Cornell.
Despite the mismatch in the standings and a more difficult—and title-deciding—matchup against Columbia on Saturday night, the Crimson prepared for the Big Red no differently.
“Coach always tells us about taking care of the here and now,” Casey said. “We knew that [Columbia would be] an important game, but it wouldn’t have been important if we dropped this one…. It wouldn’t have been seizing the moment. We were focused on what we needed to do.”
—Staff writer Hope Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.