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Coming into the season, predictions about the success of the Harvard men’s basketball team’s inside game were guarded but optimistic.
“We haven’t proven anything yet,” junior forward Matt Stehle said. “But there’s something wrong if at the end of the season our frontcourt isn’t considered the best in the league.”
Senior captain Jason Norman agreed.
“We have what I think is the best frontcourt in the league this year,” Norman said.
Though Stehle—who led the team in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots—certainly has much to do with these bold predictions, the real source of the increased optimism is even easier to spot in Lavietes Pavillion.
He is 7’ sophomore center Brian Cusworth, and many believe he holds the key to a quick turnaround for the Crimson (1-2, 0-0 Ivy) after last season’s 4-23 debacle.
Last year, Cusworth came in with high expectations, but spent the year riding the pine after a stress fracture in his foot left him unable to play. But with the return to health, Cusworth has even bigger goals to match his size.
The team, which in the past was “perimeter-dominated,” according to Harvard coach Frank Sullivan, adjusted its offense during the off-season in preparation for Cusworth’s return to ensure that Harvard got the ball inside with greater frequency.
“Certainly we’ve changed the way that we play so our frontcourt guys get more touches,” Sullivan said.
Thus far, the offense has looked much more balanced, and Cusworth has not disappointed.
After opening the season in his first collegiate start with a strong performance against No. 20 Notre Dame, Cusworth contributed two more solid efforts at home last week.
Despite being hampered by foul trouble, Cusworth registered 13 points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots during the Crimson’s 60-52 loss to Holy Cross on Tuesday night.
Four days later, Cusworth had the break-through game that his team so desperately needed.
Playing a career-high 34 minutes, Cusworth also recorded lifetime-highs of 20 points and 13 rebounds in Harvard’s 85-75 win over Northeastern. It was his second double-double of the young season, and based on his averages thus far—16 points and 11 boards each time out—it’s sure not to be his last.
More importantly, he led the Crimson to its first victory of the season in a contest that saw Harvard show strong resolve when it held onto its lead despite giving it up late in the game to hang on for the win.
Cusworth called the contest “a great demonstration of the character of this year’s team.”
While leading Harvard in scoring, Cusworth has also been a key contributor on the defensive end. He leads the team with five blocks and has helped the Crimson hold opponents to .387 percent shooting from the field—down from .466 percent last year.
Now that the season first’s victory is in the rear-view mirror, Cusworth and his teammates can focus on loftier goals.
“We have the best frontcourt in the Ivy League without a doubt,” Cusworth said after the win. “We’re well on our way to proving it. We’ve got a ways to go, but we’ve definitely shown a lot of promise.”
With the way he’s played so far, it’s tough to disagree.
—Staff writer Gregory B. Michnikov can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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