To pick up a pair of vital wins on the road this weekend, the Harvard men’s basketball team will have to find a way to put a damper on two of the hottest shooting guards in the Ivy League.
Tonight at Brown (9-9, 2-2 Ivy), the Crimson (8-11, 3-3) will face perhaps the Ancient Eight’s most athletic player in 6’1 point guard Jason Forte, whose 18.3 points per game lead the league. Forte, a senior, has improved upon a 2003-04 Ivy League Player of the Year campaign in which he scored 16.8 per contest.
“He’s an explosive player,” captain Jason Norman said. “He’s going to get his shots up. Basically we just have to try to contain him [and] make his shots difficult.”
The challenging task of guarding Forte will be handed to Norman—Harvard’s answer to the athleticism of Brown’s best player. Forte, whose older brother Joseph starred at North Carolina before playing briefly in the NBA, is coming off a career-high 36-point performance last weekend in the Bears’ loss to Cornell. The next night against Columbia, he hit the game-winning jumper with 3.5 seconds left, earning him Ivy League Player of the Week honors.
“He’s a player with exceptional athleticism, and that’s atypical of what you usually see in this league,” junior center Brian Cusworth said. “We’re focusing a lot on team defense [and] not allowing that driving lane.”
Forte torched the Crimson for 49 points and 15 assists in Brown’s two convincing wins over Harvard last season, while also shooting 18 free throws in the process. Much of Forte’s game is slashing to the hoop and drawing contact; he was 15-of-17 from the stripe in his personal-best effort versus Cornell.
“If we can make him get his baskets from the outside, and not put him on the free throw line, that will help keep his numbers down,” senior point guard David Giovacchini said.
Forte will not have as much help as he did last year in leading Brown past Harvard. Three significant players from the Bears’ successful 10-4 squad in 2003-04—Patrick Powers, Jaime Kilburn, and Mike Martin—were lost to graduation. This year, the Bears are relatively green; Forte is the only senior, and the squad is carrying nine freshman. Against Columbia, coach Glen Miller started two freshmen—Damon Huffman and Mark MacDonald—and a sophomore, Nathan Eads.
“We do carry a lot more experience than this team,” Cusworth said. “That’s one of the advantages we have coming into this game.”
Yale (5-12, 1-3) is similarly reliant on younger talent. Sophomores Sam Kaplan and Casey Hughes have been moved to the starting lineup, and they have not disappointed, averaging 8.9 and 8.4 points per game respectively. Freshman Caleb Holmes has also had an impact, as he was named Ivy League Rookie of the Week for his career-high 15-point effort in the Bulldogs’ first league win—a 77-67 defeat of Columbia last week.
The real Yale threat, however, is senior guard Edwin Draughan, a slasher who leads the Bulldogs in points (15.7 per game) and assists (4.1). Draughan has started every game since he set foot on the New Haven campus and is an all-around athletic threat from the perimeter.
“He’s the glue to their team. He does everything for them,” Norman said. “That’s the key; if we shut him down, I think we have a great chance of winning that game.”
Fresh off a season-high 25-point effort in a tough double-overtime loss to Cornell last Saturday, Draughan, whose offensive game is similar to Forte’s, will stretch the limits of the Harvard defense with his scoring ability.
“They’re both real athletic out on the wings,” Giovacchini said. “They like to slash, and can get to the basket and finish.”
Forte is probably the bigger threat to sink Harvard with a huge game, as he handles the ball on every play. The Brown offense provides more fast break and one-on-one opportunities for its standout guard, whereas Yale has a larger group of established scorers to rely upon—center Dominick Martin and guard Alex Gamboa also score in double digits for the Bulldogs.
“Forte is a more explosive scorer. Draughan gets his baskets through their offense, mostly,” Norman said.
Draughan may present the bigger matchup problem due to his size. The 6’7 swingman is too quick for most forwards, yet smaller guards have trouble dealing with his ability to shoot over the top and post up. Draughan is also a superior defensive player; his length allows him to get in the passing lanes (21 steals) and haul down rebounds (4.9 per contest).
Last year, Draughan abused the Crimson, shooting 60 percent from the floor while racking up 38 points in the series split. Harvard plans to defend him with the same man-to-man that it hopes will stop Forte, but plenty of help will be available should either guard begin to take over the game.
“We’ll throw everything and the kitchen sink at both of them,” Giovacchini said, “and hopefully find something that works.”
—Staff writer Caleb W. Peiffer can be reached at email@example.com.