For the Harvard men’s basketball team when it faced Yale on March 7th, the term “charity stripe” must have seemed a mischaracterization. Time after time, a Crimson player would step to the free-throw line, take several dribbles, and put up a shot.
Clank. Rim. “Long!”
The poor shooting seemed contagious, and every Harvard player who attempted a free throw on the night shot worse than his season average.
While Ivy Player of the Year Wesley Saunders went 1-of-8 from the stripe, and last year’s Ancient Eight Rookie of the Year Siyani Chambers shot 55.5 percent from the line, junior forward Steve Moundou-Missi connected at an 80 percent clip.
With the Yale crowd jeering in the packed Payne Whitney Gymnasium, Moundou-Missi walked to the line, received the ball from the referee, and paused, holding the rock on his left lip. He reached the ball around his back, grabbed it with his right hand, and dribbled a few times.
“I’ve got shooter!” “Box out!” Swish.
Early in the first half and late in the second period, Moundou-Missi converted from the line. Perhaps it was the wraparound-the-back part of his free throw routine that differentiated his time at the stripe from that of his teammates. But on an evening when no one else could knock down the only “free” shot on the court, the big man made it his duty to do so.
An hour later, after the final buzzer rang, when the rest of the Crimson celebrated its Ivy League title and NCAA Tournament berth with fist pumps and chest bumps, Moundou-Missi turned towards the Harvard fan section and began to applaud. Instead of celebrating his own victory, the forward was thanking the Crimson fans for their contribution.
Another twenty minutes passed, and Moundou-Missi was sitting at the postgame press conference. Not once in the duration of the interview did he say the word “I.” Instead, he said the words “group,” “together,” and “we” multiple times.
While Moundou-Missi is quick to credit his teammates for his own success, his 2013-2014 season statistics indicate that the forward has grown into his own during the course of the year. In his third Cambridge campaign, he leads the team in both rebounds and blocks per game (with 5.7 and 1.3, respectively), and averages over 25 percent more points per contest this season than last.
Despite the return of fellow big man senior Kyle Casey, Moundou-Missi’s minutes spiked over the course of the year, largely due to the season-ending injury of junior Kenyatta Smith. Moundou-Missi’s time on the hardwood jumped from 20.6 minutes per game in his sophomore year to 24.8 in his junior year, good for a 125-minute increase overall.
With the injury to Smith, an amplified amount of pressure was put on Moundou-Missi down low. And, according to his teammates and coaches, he delivered.
In the squad’s first league game of the season, Moundou-Missi tallied 16 points on 57 percent shooting from the floor, going a perfect 8-of-8 from the free-throw line—only once in the entire 2012-2013 season did Moundou-Missi score 16 points or more. He got to the line more than seven times in a single contest only once his sophomore campaign, and when he did he shot only 5-of-11, a far cry from this year’s charity stripe-conversion rate.
This season, Moundou-Missi has put up at least 16 points seven times, and scored over 20 points in four of those games. In the last three contests of the season, the junior put up 16, 16, and 21 points, respectively, earning Ivy League Player of the Week honors along the way.