Coming off five straight wins, the Harvard men’s basketball team finally met its match against the University of Vermont Monday night in Burlington. Despite a strong first half and a late comeback in the second, the Crimson (6-5) simply couldn’t stop the Catamounts’ (10-5) offense en route to a 82-71 loss.
“We knew this was going to be a tough game and a tough environment, it always is,” head coach Tommy Amaker said. “They have a really good program, our games have always been very tough and gritty and grimy. I thought their play on the interior, [their] points in the paint, was just the difference.”
In what was a close matchup throughout the first half and into the second frame, it was ultimately a 9-0 run from the Catamounts five minutes into the second half that did Harvard in. Led by redshirt senior Darren Payen, who tallied a season high 21 points, Vermont took a 5-point lead just over five minutes through the second period.
While the Crimson stopped the run with a dunk from freshman Chris Lewis, the Catamounts responded in turn with an 8-0 run to take an 11-point lead halfway through the period.
“We have to do a better job of plugging the holes and plugging the gaps and we didn’t,” Amaker said. “Our inability to stay in front of the ball really hurt us.”
What turned into a late victory for Vermont began as a high scoring ordeal. In the first half alone the Crimson shot 61-percent. Despite the efficient offense, however, they trailed 36-33 at the half.
While the Catamounts were nearly as efficient as Harvard, shooting 48 percent through the first frame, the ultimate difference makes was Vermont’s presence on the inside. Through the first half, the Catamounts had four offensive rebounds while the Crimson had zero and forced six Harvard turnovers.
“I just thought we weren’t very good defensively, we didn’t get enough stops. We were scoring and shooting the ball fairly well,” Amaker said. “But you have to look at the offensive rebounds by them and the amount of times they were able to get to the foul line.”
On the game, the Crimson was outrebounded 34-21. In total the Catamounts came up with 15 offensive boards to Harvard’s five.
“Their offensive rebounding and our lack of that—for us to get five rebounds on the offensive end—it’s not going to work very well for us,” Amaker said.
The first half of the game, however, saw an increasingly common occurrence to Amaker’s squad: freshman Bryce Aiken went off for 14 points on 6-of-6 shooting through the first frame.
While Aiken kept the Crimson afloat through the first 20 minutes of the matchup, foul trouble would keep the freshman on the bench for much of the second period. His next field goal wouldn’t come until there were 12 seconds left on the clock and Harvard saw itself down by 13.
While Vermont’s 19-5 run midway through the second half pushed the Catamount lead to double digits, Harvard responded late.
With just over five minutes left on the clock, freshman guard Justin Bassey hit a three to cut the lead to 10. Lewis would then go to the line and sink both free throws and on the next possession Bassey found the back of net from deep again to cut Vermont’s lead to five. Bassey would finish the game with 11 points on 3-of-4 shooting from beyond the arc.
The late comeback wouldn’t be enough however, as the Crimson sent the Catamounts to the line on subsequent possessions and wouldn’t score for the next three minutes.
“We were making runs, but we had some really critical mistakes there,” Amaker said. “We have to make sure that when there are stretches like that we have to make the right plays, [but] I think a lot of that is our youth.
While the youth of Harvard’s squad might’ve resulted in late turnovers, it continued to lead its offense as well—the Crimson’s freshman accounted for 56 of Harvard’s 71 points on the night.
—Staff writer Troy Boccelli can be reached at email@example.com.
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