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Things were not looking good for the Harvard men’s basketball team midway through the first half of its game against Loyola Marymount Saturday night in Los Angeles, Calif.
An Anthony Ireland three-pointer had given the Lions a 13-point lead and put the Crimson in early danger of losing its first contest of the season.
“They just came out really strong to start the game and we were kind of on our heels,” junior forward Kyle Casey explained.
But Harvard coach Tommy Amaker called a timeout to substitute in four new players, and things immediately began to turn around for the Crimson. Harvard (3-0) rallied to pull ahead by four before the end of the half and finished the game with a 77-67 victory.
On its ensuing possession after the timeout, co-captain Oliver McNally drilled a three to cut the LMU (1-2) lead to 25-15, and after a Lions miss on its end of the court, McNally knocked down another trey to cut the deficit to seven.
The teams then traded baskets as LMU went ahead 29-20 on an Ireland free throw with 5:47 remaining in the first.
But from there, the Crimson went on a 12-0 run to take back the lead. Co-captain Keith Wright began the stretch by hitting a short jumper, and junior Christian Webster and freshman Jonah Travis knocked down shots to cut the deficit to three.
“We got a lot of energy from the bench, particularly from Jonah Travis, who came in and gave us tremendous minutes,” Wright said. “He was definitely a low-post presence that sparked our team.”
Sophomore Laurent Rivard finished a three-point play on Harvard’s next possession to tie the game, and then knocked down a long ball to give the Crimson a 32-29 lead with 2:23 remaining in the half.
Two free throws by LMU’s Ashley Hamilton trimmed the advantage to one, but Wright followed with a three-point play to put Harvard up four. The teams traded baskets before the end of the half, with the Crimson going into the break up, 37-33, after a McNally fast-break layup off a Webster steal.
Harvard came out equally hot in the second, opening up a 10-point lead on a Casey jumper, Wright layup, and Casey dunk. That stretch capped a 25-5 run for the Crimson.
“They were trying to front the post, and they had a really strong front side,” Casey said. “We just kind of took what they gave us, and it worked pretty successfully.”
The teams went back-and-forth for a few minutes after that, until an Ireland layup cut the Harvard advantage to eight with 13:08 left in the game. But Rivard responded with back-to-back threes to open up a 14-point lead.
After freshman Steve Mondou-Missi knocked down one of two free throws on Harvard’s next possession, Rivard drilled another long ball to put the Crimson ahead, 60-42, with 9:52 to go.
“A lot of what we did tonight was trying to spread the floor,” Casey said. “They left Laurent open, and he’s a deadly weapon from three. He stepped up and made some big shots for us.”
After a Wright layup put the Crimson ahead, 66-48, with 7:39 to go, LMU began to chip at the Crimson advantage in a late attempt to get back in the game.
The Lions’ Godwin Okonji tipped in his own missed jumper on the next LMU possession, and Ireland followed a Webster turnover with a three-point play to cut the lead to 13.
Junior guard Brandyn Curry then turned it over for the Crimson, and two Ireland free throws trimmed the Harvard advantage to 11 at 66-55 with 3:43 remaining.
McNally subsequently gave away the ball for the Crimson’s third consecutive turnover, and after a Lions miss and two McNally free throws, LMU went on a 6-0 run to cut the Harvard lead to 68-61 with 2:40 to go.
But from there, the Crimson settled down and hung on for the victory, with McNally, Curry, and freshman Wesley Saunders going 9-of-10 from the charity stripe down the stretch to give Harvard the 10-point win.
Rivard led the squad with 20 points on 5-of-8 shooting from long distance. McNally added 16 for the Crimson, while the inside combination of Wright and Casey finished with 15 and 14 points, respectively.
Harvard shot better than 50 percent from the floor during the contest, and outrebounded LMU, 41-23.
Ireland led the Lions—who last week knocked off then-No. 20 UCLA on the road—with 26 points.
The victory against a tough non-conference opponent gives the Crimson momentum heading into its Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas next week.
“To come into someone else’s gym and come out with a victory is big,” Wright said. “It definitely feels good getting this win.”
—Staff writer Scott A. Sherman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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