For its second straight game, the Harvard men’s basketball team was the clear favorite. Travelling to Dartmouth this weekend, the Crimson hoped to replicate its 16-point victory over the Big Green earlier this month.
But Harvard is no stranger to upsets. Just five days ago, the Crimson was favored by eight in its final nonconference game of the season and fell in historic fashion at Florida Atlantic University. In one of its worst performances of the Tommy Amaker era, Harvard missed 10 of its 12 shots from beyond the arc and shot 23 percent from the field, finishing with a record-low three assists.
Against Dartmouth, the Crimson looked like an entirely new team. In its best shooting performance under Amaker, Harvard shot the ball at a 66 percent clip from the field. Four Crimson starters finished in double-digits in a balanced offensive effort, with co-captain Laurent Rivard’s 16 points leading the team. Junior forward Steve Moundou-Missi contributed to the Crimson’s revived efficiency in the paint, chipping in 12 points on five-of-seven shooting from the field.
The drastic turnaround from last week’s matchup against the Owls bodes well for Harvard, whose offensive efficiency currently sits in the middle of the Ancient Eight pack after the squad’s dismal performance at FAU.
“Hats off to Florida Atlantic, they played a great game, but we didn’t feel good about ourselves and the big theme was don’t let up,” co-captain Brandyn Curry said. “Don’t let a bad game turn into a bad slump of games. You see that around the nation. Our motto after a tough loss is to regroup and respond.”
At home for the first time in the Ivy League season, Dartmouth took the court without its leader. Junior forward Gabas Maldunas—good for 23 points last time the two teams met—sat on the bench against Harvard after tearing his ACL earlier this week.
“We didn’t want to make a big deal out of it because, as we have seen [when junior Wesley Saunders was injured], teams can respond in a short period of time to losing one of your better players, if not your best player,” Amaker said.
Maldunas led the conference with 8.5 rebounds per game and topped the Big Green with 11.2 points per game. In Maldunas’ absence, the Dartmouth offense was forced to adjust against a consistent Crimson defense. Sophomores Connor Boehm and Malik Gill stepped up in Maldunas’ absence, but their 16 points apiece were not enough to replace the leading big man.
“Sometimes those things can energize a team in the short run and players can take it and run with it,” Amaker said. “They know they are playing more minutes and are going to get to touch the ball more, so we didn’t want to let up and change our game plan, whether Maldunas would be in or not. We stayed true to what we thought was our identity.”
While Maldunas sat on the sidelines, Harvard center Kenyatta Smith suited up for the first time this year. After a preseason foot injury cost Smith his first 17 games, the big man entered the game with just over four minutes to play. Though Smith had not yet participated in a contact practice since returning from injury, Amaker tapped him to take over with a comfortable 30-point lead in the second half. The junior only took one shot in his two minutes on the court—a layup in the post that clanged off the rim—but will be a potential impact player through conference play if he remains healthy.
“It was an opportunity to get him in there today and to get him going up and down to get game competition,” Amaker said. “He hadn’t played all year. He may not be back this year, but we are going to do everything we can to expedite the process.”
In last year’s second matchup against the Big Green, now-Harvard assistant coach Christian Webster had a very different role to play.
In a historic game one season ago, the Crimson came back from a 10-point deficit with 90 seconds left to play in order to remain undefeated in Ivy League play. Webster was instrumental in the overtime victory, hitting three clutch three-pointers in the final minutes of the game.
This time, Webster was on the bench as his former co-captain Rivard made it rain from beyond the arc. Nine of Rivard’s 16 points came from downtown, and only sophomore point guard Siyani Chambers took more shots, sinking four-of-six from deep. Though the Crimson has racked up the fewest three-point attempts in the Ivy League thus far this campaign, its 71 percent shooting from deep on Sunday was its best mark of the season.
—Staff writer Hope Schwartz can be reached at email@example.com.
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