Matt Stehle knew he had to ratchet up his level of play this season for Harvard to have any hope of competing in the Ivy League.
What he did not know was that he would need to once more fill a gaping seven-foot hole in the middle for the Crimson.
But after sophomore center Brian Cusworth fractured his left thumb in last Tuesday’s loss to Fairfield, an injury that will cause him to miss Harvard’s next three games, the team naturally looked to Stehle to shoulder the scoring and rebounding burden and keep the Crimson afloat. It is a task that Stehle is used to—he was the team’s primary post presence all of last season, when a stress fracture of Cusworth’s right foot kept the center from playing a single game.
Early results show that Stehle is certainly up to this year’s challenge. After a solid 12 point, nine rebound effort in Harvard’s loss to Fairfield, Stehle came up with his best game of the year in Saturday’s impressive victory against Lehigh, the first test for the Crimson without Cusworth.
In beating the Mountain Hawks, one of only two teams on Harvard’s schedule that made the NCAA tournament last season (along with Princeton), Stehle led the team with 17 points, 13 rebounds and four assists.
All three figures were season-highs for the junior forward, whose rebounding was especially important in Cusworth’s absence.
“I think Matt did an excellent job [on Saturday] getting a little bit more,” Harvard coach Frank Sullivan said after the Crimson’s win over Lehigh. “He’s up in the top 15 in the country in rebounding right now, and I think he was determined to stay up in that area. He certainly had a good rebounding game.”
Stehle’s exploits on the boards pushed his season average to 10.2 rebounds per game, jumping ahead of Cusworth and into 12th place on the national list.
Perhaps more impressive than his 17 points and 13 boards, though, was a much smaller number that appeared in the forward’s box score line.
Stehle has had a tough time avoiding foul trouble throughout his Harvard career, which has kept him from fully utilizing his talent, but he was whistled just once against Lehigh in 35 minutes.
Staying on the court will be even more important to the team’s chances with Cusworth out of the picture.
“It was something that I had a huge problem with last year,” Stehle said. “It’s not something you can physically work on, it’s more of a mental thing, and I’ve tried to work on that [aspect].”
As long as Stehle is able to stay in the game and play as he did over the past week, the Harvard men’s basketball team might be able to string a few more wins onto Saturday’s victory.
—CALEB W. PEIFFER