A quality defensive effort was not enough to offset a rough second-half offensive performance, and Harvard fell to Vermont in the closing minutes, 62-56, on Tuesday night at Lavietes Pavilion.
On a night where Vermont fans appeared to outnumber Harvard supporters, the Crimson struggled to find offensive rhythm without starting point guard Bryce Aiken, who is recovering from a knee injury. Between the end of the first half and the start of the second, the hosts suffered a scoring drought of 6:53.
Harvard (5-9) eventually clawed its way back from a 51-44 deficit, but in the end the Catamounts (9-5) regained control and put the game on ice with just seconds to go.
With 41 seconds left in the game, Vermont clung to a 57-56 advantage. Sophomore forward Seth Towns had just hit a midrange jumper, and the Catamounts opted for a timeout. After the Crimson defense had a chance to reset, Vermont forward Payton Henson found himself open in the paint, and he slammed home a dunk while drawing contact. A made free throw later, Harvard’s window of opportunity slammed shut.
“Our record doesn’t show how good of a team we are and can be,” sophomore forward Chris Lewis said. “The games that we’ve played in, we’ve fought every single time, each of my teammates put everything on the line each and every time, and even the ones that we lost we fought to the very end.”
In the first half, the Crimson came out firing from beyond the arc, connecting on seven of 13 attempts. However, this trend reversed in the second period, as Towns hit the only three-pointer after halftime. The Catamounts were much more consistent on long range shots, finishing at 55.6 percent.
A few key three-point misses came in the final minutes. With about three minutes left to play, junior guard Corey Johnson and sophomore guard Christian Juzang each had chances to give Harvard a one-point lead, but each shot missed its mark.
“Those two certainly were the critical ones,” head coach Tommy Amaker said. “Wide open shots that in a game like this you have to make in order to win it.”
Towns accounted for three of the team’s eight long balls, finishing with 13 points, five boards, and three assists. However, the sophomore shot just 5-of-13 on the night and did not draw significant contact, failing to reach the charity stripe. In total, Harvard attempted just four free throws in the game.
“We need more from Seth,” Amaker said. “That’s not dumping it on him or putting it in his lap, but he hasn’t shot the ball well. He didn’t shoot the ball well in Minnesota, didn’t shoot it well here today, didn’t get to the foul line. We certainly need his production, and he’s certainly not shooting at a high percentage.”
Lewis made up for the team’s inconsistent shooting with solid interior play on both ends. The sophomore collected 14 points, including a few strong dunks, four rebounds, and four blocks.
Coming into the game, Vermont was somewhat limited offensively due to the absence of leading scorer and rebounder Anthony Lamb, who suffered a foot fracture in practice. Lamb had paced the Catamounts with 16.8 points and six rebounds per game and had started in all 13 of their previous games.
In this contest, Henson made up for Lamb’s production. The redshirt senior scored 17 points in 28 minutes. Drew Urquhart, Ernie Duncan, and Everett Duncan all contributed clutch three pointers late in the second half, and senior guard Trae Bell-Haynes added 11 points and five rebounds.
For the most part, the Crimson utilized a man defense that worked well against Vermont’s strategy of driving and kicking out for three-point attempts. The Catamounts were forced to take a number of low-percentage shots due to Lewis’ commanding presence under the basket. Lewis notched three of his four blocks in the first half, which perhaps led to Vermont’s triple-heavy approach in the second.
“You hold the team to basically 60 or 62 points, and you can’t be disappointed about that,” Amaker said. “We just have to figure out how can we generate more offense. Can we generate it from our defense, or is it going to be from the three-point line, or utilize Lewis?”
Aiken, Harvard’s leading scorer, has now missed four consecutive games with a knee injury. There was no update on his condition or a timetable for his return, but his absence has certainly affected the team’s offensive rhythm.
“I think that’s exactly what we’ve lacked is rhythm, and we’ve been disjointed,” Amaker said. “It’s been a tough stretch for us, and not having Bryce is something that’s taken its toll on our team now.”
This contest marked the final non-conference home game for the Crimson, which begins Ivy League play on Saturday against Dartmouth.
“In some ways, I said to them, it’s similar to having a practice exam for what’s really coming around the corner,” Amaker said. “We’ll hopefully show that we can learn from it and be ready for the actual exam, which starts on Saturday.”
—Staff writer Jack Stockless can be reached at email@example.com.
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