With the kind of trouble the Harvard women’s basketball team had on Saturday night, you’d think the Blue Devils they were playing were from Durham, N.C., not New Britain, Conn.
Playing without captain and all-Ivy center Reka Cserny, the Crimson (5-2) eventually dispatched Central Connecticut State (1-5) 70-55 at Lavietes Pavilion.
Resting a sprained ankle, Cserny did not suit up for Harvard, which had much more trouble pulling away from the feisty Blue Devils this weekend than it did last season, when it won 94-47.
“[Cserny not playing] shouldn’t affect us,” Harvard coach Kathy Delaney-Smith said. “This team knows, as much as we love Reka, it’s not about one player.”
Junior forward Kate Mannering, her lip bruised and stitched, stepped up in the absence of Cserny, scoring a career-high 18 points and swiping four steals.
“I tried to take some of what [Cserny] usually does in a game and put it into my game and it turned out well,” Mannering said.
After an ugly first 20 minutes, Harvard was staked to a slim three-point lead.
“I haven’t been that angry with a team in a long time,” Delaney-Smith said. “They just were not mentally ready…I was very, very disappointed with our preparation for this game.”
Coming out of the locker room, Mannering poured in two quick buckets and senior guard Katie Murphy added a lay-in, but Central Connecticut was quick with a response each time. A deep three-pointer from junior guard Jess Holsey, however, swung the momentum to the Crimson, which went on a 16-5 run.
After going scoreless in the first half, Holsey had seven points in the second period, and added four assists on the night.
Harvard built its lead up to 14 with 12:30 to play, but the Blue Devils went on a mini-run and seemed poised to get back into the game. A three-ball from sophomore guard Kyle Dalton stemmed the Central Connecticut nascent charge and pushed the lead back to 13.
Dalton tied her career high with seven points on the night.
“Kyle has been playing better and better every day,” Delaney-Smith said. “The last couple games we’ve put her in I’ve been very pleased with her play.”
Yet again the Crimson margin was trimmed as the Blue Devils began making another run just past midway through the half and again a big trey, this time from junior forward Maureen McCaffery, halted the thrust in its tracks with 5:50 remaining, and all but secured the win for Harvard.
Making her first career start, McCaffery went for nine points and grabbed a career-high nine boards.