Playing in the frigid weather of a Minneapolis winter, the shooting went cold for both Harvard and Minnesota on Saturday—neither team would shoot over 34 percent from the field in a contest that would give the Gophers their fourth consecutive win, 65-55.
With the Crimson’s leading scorer sophomore guard Bryce Aiken out with an injury, Harvard (5-8) struggled to create offense and hold an early lead despite holding Minnesota (12-3) to its lowest scoring total of the season.
Sophomore forward Seth Towns finished the game with 10 points and seven rebounds, but shot 4-20 from the field while missing all of his eight attempts from beyond the arc.
“I thought we came into this afternoon with the thought that if we could really fight and compete together then that would really give us a chance,” head coach Tommy Amaker said. “I thought we did that, I thought our kids really fought and competed and we didn’t play well enough to win. We really needed that third piece to make it happen, we shot 7-of-32 from three.”
While the Crimson would take a 9-4 lead in the opening minutes, a 13-0 run from the Gophers would prove to be the nail in the coffin for Harvard as Minnesota would hold on to the lead for the remainder of the game.
While early the run gave the Gophers the advantage for good, the Crimson stayed within striking distance for much of the matchup, making up for the cold shooting with the defense that has come to define Amaker’s tenure as head coach. While Harvard had its second worst shooting performance of the season—going 32.8 percent from the field—Minnesota hardly bested the Crimson, shooting 33.3 percent on the day.
“I thought our zone really helped us, we were pretty active in it,” Amaker said. “We didn’t get many easy baskets, and we had a few turnovers in the first half that led to fastbreak opportunities and dunks for them, but other than that I thought we really kept everything in front of us and our zone was really effective in making the shots they were taking pretty tough.”
Though finding the bottom of the net would prove to be difficult for both teams, it was at the charity stripe where the Gophers cemented the win. Harvard was held to a season low eight free-throws, converting six, while Minnesota went to the line 20 times, converting on 18 of those.
“We didn’t get to the foul line nearly enough, only eight times for the whole game,” Amaker said. “You’re not going to be able to win a game like that against a team like that here without making better strides in those categories.”
Despite the early run from the Gophers, the Crimson would cut into Minnesota’s lead late.
Coming out of a timeout after a dunk from sophomore forward Michael Hurt gave the Gophers a ten-point lead, Harvard went to work with just over 10 minutes to go—first it was a jumper from sophomore forward Chris Lewis. Then after holding Minnesota scoreless on ensuing possessions it was Lewis again with a layup. With just over 8 minutes left to play junior sharpshooter Corey Johnson capped the Harvard run with a three to put the Crimson within a possession.
Johnson would finish the matchup with a team high 12 points on 4-of-10 shooting to go with 6 rebounds.
“Guys were just finding me in transition,” Johnson said. “I have confidence in myself to take the shot so if I’m open I’m going to take it and I was fortunate enough to make some today.”
The 7-0 run would put the Crimson within three but it would prove to be as close as Harvard would get in the second half as the Gophers responded with an 8-0 run to put the game out of reach with just over four minutes to go.
“We just did a great job of sticking to the gameplan,” Johnson said. “We did to great job of boxing out, kept out their bigs that are known for their offensive rebounding off the glass. They did a great job of answering our runs and hit some big shots down the stretch and they definitely deserved the win.”
—Staff writer Troy Boccelli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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