Despite battling a stomach flu that had sidelined him for two team practices and forced him to travel apart from the team, Unger, a junior forward, erupted for a career-high 13 points on 5-of-5 shooting by halftime in an 87-79 road win over LIU.
The 6-8 power-forward—who moonlights as a varsity pitcher during baseball season—hit three crucial three-pointers against a physical zone defense in the final minutes of the first half to give Harvard a 44-39 lead going into the intermission.
He also finished with 15 points on a perfect 6-for-6 from the field with three rebounds in only 16 minutes off the bench.
“That’ll make you feel a lot better quick,” said Unger, who had sat out team practices on Thursday and Friday with flu-like symptoms. The illness was serious enough that Unger did not travel with the team on Saturday out of concern that it might be infectious, said Harvard coach Frank Sullivan.
Instead, it was Unger’s hot shooting that was infectious.
The Crimson launched an offensive barrage against an athletic but discombobulated LIU team in a game in which the Crimson never trailed after halftime and set season-highs in points (87) and field-goal percentage (55.4 percent). By the half, Unger had set personal career highs in points, field goal, and three-pointers—at times drawing mystified looks from LIU defenders and coaches after knocking down open shots. Team captain Jim Goffredo scorched the Blackbirds for a season-high 27 points on 8-of-15 shooting from the field and 5-of-10 from behind the arc. Overall, Harvard hit 31 of 56 shots, including 9-of-20 from three-point range.
The Crimson exploited an LIU defense that swarmed 7-footer senior center Brian Cusworth on nearly ever possession, often doubling and even tripling down on Harvard’s leading scorer and rebounder. Cusworth was clearly frustrated with LIU’s physical play, at one point during a time-out pleading his case to a referee at half-court.
“There were two or three guys hanging on me every possession,” said Cusworth, who declined to comment on the quality of officiating. “They were really packing it in.”
LIU had no players taller than 6-7, but they compensated against Cusworth with an aggressive physical style that, at times, appeared to employ more elbows than defensive rotations.
The strategy helped limit Harvard’s leading scorer to 11 points on only 3-of-8 shooting, but opened shots for secondary options like Unger and sophomore point guard Drew Housman. Housman routinely blew by sagging LIU defenders for open trips to the basket. He finished with 15 points on 6-of-10 from the field and 3-of-4 for the line and added three assists.
“When the defense is putting that much attention on one or two guys, it leaves other guys open,” Unger said. “It’s hard to play defense like that at the college level, because most teams have solid players.”
Unger drilled three three-pointers in the final six minutes of the first half, the first giving the Crimson a 31-28 lead, after which the team never trailed. His last trey bailed out the team after a botched offensive sequence, and gave Harvard a 44-39 with three seconds remaining in the half.
Unger’s previous career high for points was 11, which he accomplished in Harvard’s 83-75 victory over Lehigh on November 25 and last seasons’ 61-48 win at Albany.
Unger is now 6-of-8 from beyond the arc on the season, and is 15-of-26 from the field overall.