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Any concern that Harvard men’s basketball would overlook Penn in anticipation of league-leader Princeton was wiped away in the first 20 minutes of Friday night’s game at Lavietes Pavilion.
In its best first half of the season, the Crimson jumped out to a 13-point lead in the first 10 minutes and increased the margin up to 22 points by halftime.
“I thought we played a tremendous first 20 minutes,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “I thought our defense was outstanding, [and] I thought we had great energy.”
Coming off its second league loss of the season, the Crimson’s conference title hopes depended on a win over the Quakers, a fact that was not lost on Harvard.
“A lot of people were saying that we might be looking ahead to Princeton and overlook [Penn],” sophomore guard Brandyn Curry said. “That’s how a lot of teams lose games, so our focus was to come out and get on them early.”
The key to the Crimson’s early success was ball movement.
In the first half, Harvard recorded assists on 14 of its 17 first-half field goals, and it had balanced production between the post and the perimeter.
“We shot the ball well, but we were unselfish,” Amaker said. “[We] had great opportunities because of great ball movement.”
The Crimson’s efficiency on offense in the first half was matched by its effectiveness on defense.
Harvard forced 11 turnovers in the first frame while holding the Quakers to 9-of-21 shooting from the field.
The Crimson backcourt largely neutralized Penn’s playmaking guard Zack Rosen, holding him to one-of-five shooting in the first half.
“To guard Zach Rosen can be a nightmare,” Amaker said. “We had to do it as a group, as a team.”
DIALED IN FROM DISTANCE
Harvard was able to generate offense from behind the three-point line all night long.
Off drives and kick outs, the Crimson created a number of open looks from deep, which it was consistently able to knock down.
Freshman forward Laurent Rivard went 4-for-5 on threes in the first half and 5-of-7 on the night.
After a slow start, sophomore guard Christian Webster went 2-of-4 from deep in the second frame.
“Laurent and Webbie, I think, are the two best shooters in the league,” Curry said. “They were just knocking shots down.”
“I would be surprised if there’s a harder worker in the league on his jumper [than Rivard],” junior co-captain Oliver McNally said. “It just showed tonight...When you give Laurent [open] looks, he’s going to knock those down.”
The entire team was seemingly dialed in.
McNally went 2-of-5 from three-point land, and Curry and freshman guard Matt Brown hit one of two attempts.
As a whole, Harvard connected on 47.8 percent of its 23 treys.
Free throws are often the difference in close games, so they were a bit of an afterthought in Friday’s blowout.
But both the Crimson and the Quakers put on a virtuosic performance at the charity stripe.
Harvard, the second-best free throw shooting team in the country (trailing only Wisconsin), went to the line 16 times and hit all 16 freebies.
Curry led the way by going 6-of-6, and Rivard’s hot shooting extended to the line where he knocked down four free throws.
Sophomore forward Kyle Casey, McNally, and Webster each chipped in a pair.
Penn, who entered the game shooting 73.4 percent, also was automatic from the stripe.
The Quakers went 19-of-20 from the free throw line on the night.
The work was spread between seven players with Mike Howlett and Jack Eggleston leading the way with four free throws.
Collectively the two teams shot 97.2 percent from the line.
The lone miss for either team came from Fran Dougherty, who bricked a freebie midway through the second half.
—Staff writer Timothy J. Walsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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