In the modern era of sports, being a college coach carries with it the burden of constant media attention. Facing dozens of reporters at press conferences, head coaches have gotten savvier—they say what they need to and leave the rest up for speculation. Here at The Back Page, we’re happy to decode some of these media sessions, showing the average fan what we think coaches’ answers “really” mean.
It was a tale of two halves when Ivy play came to Lavietes Pavilion last Saturday. The Harvard men’s basketball team started out slowly, and it looked like the Crimson was in danger of being upset by league doormat Dartmouth, which held a 12-point lead early in the second half. But with suffocating defense and timely offense, Harvard went on a 31-10 run to close out the game, and it salvaged a 59-50 win. Though disappointed with the Crimson’s play, particularly in the first half, Harvard coach Tommy Amaker was pleased with the spirit his team showed as it fought its way back into the game. We take a look at Amaker’s postgame remarks and interpret the state of the Crimson in this week’s edition of Sound Off.
What Amaker said: “I thought that Dartmouth played a tremendous game, particularly in the first half. They shot the ball extremely well. I thought that we showed a great deal of toughness and grit to be able to dig one out when it wasn’t going necessarily our way. Things weren’t as easily flowing for us as they have been, but I thought [freshman guard] Matt Brown came in and gave us a great shot in the arm defensively. It was nice to see him step forward with a few shots, but his presence and his defense, toughness out there, was a big key for us. We certainly didn’t play as well as we would’ve liked, but give Dartmouth credit.”
What Amaker meant: The Big Green, a traditional lightweight in Ivy basketball, gave Harvard all it could handle. The reason for Dartmouth’s early success was its surprising ability to convert shots. The Big Green, which sits 331st in the nation in field goal shooting at 38.0 percent, shot a blistering 48.3 percent from the field and 50.0 percent from three in the opening frame. But the Crimson buckled down after the break, holding Dartmouth to 23.1 percent shooting for the rest of the game. This defensive intensity was spearheaded by Brown, a reserve guard, who tallied three steals in 15 minutes and marked the Big Green’s sharp-shooting guards, R.J. Griffin and Jabari Trotter. By holding Dartmouth to 10 points over the final 15:36, Harvard was able to overcome lackluster execution and pull out the win.
What Amaker said: “Different guys all year have had to step forward for us. At Mercer, it was [freshman guard] Ernest Rouse; [freshman center] Ugo [Okam] gave us great minutes here against Holy Cross. We’ve just had different guys stepping forward. [Sophomore forward] Kyle [Casey] has been injured in the early part of the year—now he’s coming back. Matt [Brown] played well for us at GW. When Kyle was out, we had [sophomore forward] Jeff [Georgatos] starting—he’s been in there. So we talked about that prior to this game, that different guys were going to have to help us and step forward and have our team grow. There was a lot of growth that took place this afternoon.”
What Amaker meant: Four minutes into the second half, when Harvard faced its greatest deficit, Amaker went to his bench and subbed in Brown and Georgatos. The result was a 23-2 run that swung the game. The Crimson’s depth is frequently cited as its greatest weakness, but with sophomore guard Christian Webster (hip) and junior forward Andrew Van Nest (illness) sidelined, Harvard got a lift from its reserves. Given the grueling nature of the Ivy League schedule, the maturation and “growth” of these role players will be crucial if the Crimson hopes to contend for the conference title.
What Amaker said (on the status of Webster’s return from a hip injury): “We’re hopeful for next weekend. We were hopeful for today, but things weren’t progressing as well as we would’ve liked. All this week and then all of next week, I assume, or I’m hoping, that we’re going to get him back to practice at some point. So far he hasn’t been able to do that. Maybe sometime next week we can have him out there, and see if he can be ready to go for next Friday.”
What Amaker meant: Amaker’s measured response does not promise Webster’s return to the court this weekend, but it offers some hope. Last weekend was the perfect opportunity to rest the ailing sophomore, enabling him to recover for two weeks while missing only one game. He has been kept out of practice so far, but if the hip feels good in practice this week, it looks like Webster—the Crimson’s second-leading scorer—will be cleared to face Columbia. His ability to put the ball on the floor and attack the rim was sorely missed against Dartmouth.