SENDING A MESSAGE
Technically, Harvard had 58 bench points in its 71-49 victory over Florida Atlantic, but looks can be deceiving.
Coach Tommy Amaker wasn’t about to let any of his players forget the 24 turnovers in the team’s 58-57 loss to Holy Cross this past Sunday. Not even reigning Ivy League Player of the Year and senior Wesley Saunders, who recorded a double-double against the Crusaders, was spared.
For Saunders in particular, Amaker made sure that the message was heard, especially given some off-court internal issues that needed to be addressed.
“Wesley played tremendously in our last game, so his [benching] was an academic [one],” Amaker said. “He didn’t live up to the standards we’ve set academically for our program as well. Standards weren’t met on and off the court, decisions were made, and that’s what we did with our lineup, and I thought the guys responded in a very favorable fashion.”
Amaker cleared his bench before the first whistle blew, leaving jump-ball fixtures riding the pine to send the clear message. Besides freshman Andre Chatfield, none of Thursday’s starters had even seen the court in the previous tilt.
Though the Crimson jumped out to a 4-3 lead in the first minute-plus, the usual Harvard reserves quickly went through a dry spell for the next five. By that point, the Crimson was down seven and in need of a spark.
Point apparently made enough, Amaker emptied his “bench” with 15:35 to play in the opening half, subbing in junior captain Siyani Chambers, Saunders, senior Kenyatta Smith and Steve Moundou-Missi, and junior Evan Cummins.
And though it took a few minutes, the core players took the game by the reins with a 34-9 run to conclude the half, holding the Crusaders to 33 percent shooting in the first 20 minutes.
THE GRIND DOWN LOW
Though the Crimson struggled from beyond the arc—shooting one-for-eight on the long ball—38 points in the paint made up for the lack of long-range accuracy.
Forward after forward clashed with the Owl big men in the post, wearing down the defense regardless of the shot-by-shot outcome. Eventually it became clear that Florida Atlantic was running out of gas by the basket.
Even when the Owls denied Harvard down low, they often spent a substantial amount of energy doing so. Midway through the second half, the Crimson spent a full minute on offense after Cummins pulled down three consecutive offensive rebounds. And after a dunk by Florida Atlantic’s Justin Raffinton to pull the visitors within 13, the Owls could not close the gap.
In the 17 minutes he was on the floor, Cummins was everywhere, snagging 10 rebounds and laying in nine points for good measure. Often overlooked in the rotation, the Westborough, Mass. native seemed to have the biggest hands on the floor in this one.
Back from his yearlong injury sabbatical, Smith showed glimpses of why Amaker sees him as a key piece in the rotation. Nine points, five rebounds, and two blocks in this one, and, perhaps more importantly, the third game in a row the Sun Valley, CA native has played in without a health incident.
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