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All that Harvard men’s basketball coach Frank Sullivan wanted this summer when he made Division III Roanoke a last-minute addition to his team’s schedule was an extra nonconference game before the exam period.
He got all he could handle.
Roanoke had not faced a Division I opponent in seven seasons, but it hardly showed at Lavietes Pavillion Wednesday night. The Maroons nearly engineered what would have been an impressive upset before bowing to the Crimson, 93-88.
“As a D-III school, our expectations of them might’ve been a little low,” said Harvard senior forward Sam Winter. “But that was unjustified, obviously. They proved us wrong.”
The game was the first-ever meeting between the two schools. It was arranged when Harvard elected to sacrifice its annual exhibition game this season in favor of another regular-season game.
For a good portion of the game, that looked like a bad decision from Harvard’s standpoint.
The Maroons (4-6) utilized its team speed in a superb transition game, giving the Crimson (9-5) fits and propelling them to a 56-54 lead early in the second half. While Harvard eventually regained control, it wasn’t able to put the Maroons away until the final seconds.
“All the credit belongs to Roanoke,” Sullivan said. “They came in with great poise. They were fearless. And the thing that Roanoke did was really dictate the tempo they wanted. I really didn’t think the game could get up to the 90s, to be honest with you.
“But they came in and said, ‘We want to outscore you.’”
And they almost did.
“We came here to win,” said Roanoke coach Page Moir. “We’ve got a good program. I think we matched up well with them. We had to play at our best to win, but we missed too many foul shots and made too many turnovers to do that.”
Roanoke trailed by just four points midway through the second half, and despite a Harvard run that gave the Crimson an 11-point lead several minutes later, the Maroons whittled it back down to four with 12 seconds to go.
But Roanoke was unable to force a turnover on the ensuing inbounds play, and Josh Foster—who had a game-high 22 points for the Maroons—had to foul Winter. He hit one of two free throws for the final margin of victory.
“It was tough going into this game, because we didn’t know a lot about them,” said Winter, who scored 20 points and added a career-high 17 rebounds to run his Ivy League-leading average to 9.0 rpg. “But we knew they liked to run, and that they were capable of putting up big numbers like that.”
That became evident when the Maroons outscored Harvard 17-5 in the last 5:21 of the first half to cut Harvard’s lead from 15 points to just three, 46-43.
At that point, the momentum was clearly in Roanoke’s favor. The Maroons had shot 50 percent from the field in the first half (as compared to Harvard’s 40 percent) and hit on 5-of-9 three-pointers (55.6 percent).
To complicate matters, Roanoke center Nathan Stewart (18 points) was causing the Crimson match-up problems because of his inside-out ability that resulted in 11 first-half points.
“We went into the locker room and gave ourselves a look in the mirror,” Winter said. “We knew we had to play better than we did in the first half.”
And they did, even though Roanoke took the lead twice, at 53-51 and 56-54, before a lay-up by senior center Brian Sigafoos tied the game just after the 16-minute mark. A jumper by Winter put Harvard back on top, 58-56, with 15:34 to go.
The Crimson never trailed again, thanks in part to 12 second-half points from captain Brady Merchant and two momentum-shifting charges drawn by sophomore guard Kevin Rogus.
“I don’t think we guarded particularly well either half, but we made some shots in the second half that were timely,” Sullivan said.
Senior guard Patrick Harvey led the Crimson with 21 points.
The Ivy League season now begins in earnest for Harvard, starting with Saturday’s rematch with Dartmouth in Hanover, N.H.
Winter, who had 13 points and 12 rebounds in the Crimson’s 67-50 win over the Big Green in the Ivy opener, described Saturday’s game as “huge.”
“That would give us 10 wins going into the break, and we’d be 2-0 in the Ivy League,” Winter said. “That’d be real big for us. That’s our focus. We don’t have anything to look forward to on the basketball court except for that game for a really long time.”
—Staff writer Jon P. Morosi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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