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NOTEBOOK: Bench Helps Injury-Riddled Men's Basketball Team to Victory

By David Freed, Crimson Staff Writer

With a 61-45 win over Dartmouth (7-7, 0-1 Ivy League), the Harvard men’s basketball team started (14-2, 1-0) its 2014 Ivy League season much the same way it did last year. But make no mistake: this is not last year’s team.

Of the 61 points scored by the Crimson, just seven came from players that started on last year’s championship team. Arguably last year’s two most important players, juniors Kenyatta Smith and Wesley Saunders, watched the game in suits. All-Ivy sophomore guard Siyani Chambers missed five of eight shots, with as many turnovers as assists (two). Senior co-captain Laurent Rivard missed both shots from behind the arc and the team made only two threes overall.

And still the Crimson never trailed, getting 29 combined points from sophomore Evan Cummins and seniors Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry. Junior Steve Moundou-Missi outscored the rest of last year’s seven-man rotation by himself, chipping in 16 and making all eight of his free throws.

“We talk about our bench and our balance,” coach Tommy Amaker said. “When you look at our effort today, that is what we were able to accomplish—using our bench very well and having balance on the floor in terms of our production.”

Both Curry and Amaker talked afterward about replacing Saunders’ production by committee. The senior did his part, filling the box score with 15 points, six assists, five rebounds, and two blocks, but said on any given night anyone must be ready to step up.

“You never know whose number is going to be called,” Curry said. “It’s probably going to be someone different every night. That is what is special about our team.”

LEADING ON DEFENSE

On Saturday, the Crimson’s best offense was its defense. Dartmouth committed three turnovers on its first three possessions as Harvard jumped out to a quick nine-point advantage. When the Big Green tied the game at 30-all a minute into the second half, the Crimson buckled down.

Dartmouth’s next four possessions: Miss. Turnover. Miss. Turnover. After two Maldunas free throws, the Crimson picked up just where they left off.

Turnover. Turnover. Miss. Turnover. Turnover.

When Dartmouth finally made its second field goal of the half, Harvard was up 14. Overall the Big Green shot just 38 percent from the game and made only two of its 11 three-point attempts.

“I thought our defense was outstanding in the second half,” Amaker said. “They missed shots and I would like to think that we played a hand in that with defensive intensity and our ability to get stops up and down the floor… An outstanding effort by our team, especially in the second half.”

NEW WAYS TO SCORE

For all its efforts on the defensive end, Harvard struggled for the second straight game to score without Saunders. Not only is the junior the Crimson’s best option when the shot clock runs down, but also its most consistent penetrator—able to collapse defenses and open up the floor for three-point marksmen like Rivard, Curry, and Chambers, who missed six of eight threes Saturday.

Against UConn, Harvard compensated with 22 threes; unable to get into the lane, Chambers and Rivard often hoisted shots three or four feet behind the arc. Dartmouth was a different story. Harvard scored the majority of its points in the paint, driving at will in the 16-2 second half run that broke the game wide open.

Amaker said that the team was able to succeed in the paint because of its deep post rotation. Even without Smith, the team’s most effective post presence a year ago, the Crimson go five-deep in the frontcourt.

“We talked about our big guys doing things in a committee-like way,” Amaker said. “We are getting solid play out of different people. I think the front line is key to our team. If we can get them all out there and producing for our team, we are going to go as they go.”

When shots were not falling, the Crimson lived at the line. Harvard, which shoots just over 74 percent as a unit, made 19 of 24 free throws. When the Crimson made just three shots during the last ten minutes of the first half, it compensated with seven trips to the foul line.

With conference play having begun, Curry said the team has pushed off concerns about how it wins. What matters now, in a fourteen-game regular season with no postseason tournament, is getting the job done.

“It’s coming together, right in time,” Curry said. “It’s conference time; it’s go time. No excuses.”

—Staff writer David Freed can be reached at david.freed@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @CrimsonDPFreed.

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Men's Basketball