CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA—A little less than four minutes into Sunday afternoon’s contest, the Harvard men’s basketball team was in somewhat of a familiar position.
Playing undoubtedly the best team on its schedule in No. 6 Virginia, the Crimson had fallen behind, 9-2, before the first media timeout, bringing back memories of last season’s NCAA Tournament matchup against Michigan State. Facing the Spartans last March, Harvard had also dug itself an early 9-2 hole at the 16:15 mark of the opening period.
But whereas then-senior Kyle Casey was able to score moments later against Michigan State, bringing the score to 9-4, no one from Harvard was able to respond to the Cavaliers’ surfeit of layups and cut into the lead on Sunday.
And while the Crimson (7-2) pulled off a nearly-successful comeback against the Spartans last season, no post-intermission run aided Harvard this year, as it ended up falling, 76-27, at John Paul Jones Arena to a streaking Virginia team (11-0).
It’s no surprise that the Cavaliers—the No. 1 team in the country in opponent points per game at 47.4—relied on its defense early and often to disrupt Harvard’s offensive sets. Virginia swarmed the Crimson’s primary playmakers, junior co-captain Siyani Chambers and senior wing Wesley Saunders, at times doubling the latter on the perimeter. The pressure up top left Harvard’s bigs with more room to operate down low and on the baseline, but they were not able to take advantage of the opportunity.
It started on the first possession. And then just kept going.
After Chambers received the opening tip, the point guard found co-captain Steve Moundou-Missi waiting in the left corner. The defense had shrugged off the big man, giving him room to shoot, but his jumper clanged off the rim.
On Harvard’s next offensive set, an errant pass from Moundou-Missi to Chambers led to the Crimson’s first turnover of the game, and Virginia’s junior center Mike Tobey buried a deep two on the other end. 5-0.
It would take almost three more minutes for Harvard to score, and by that time it found itself down seven. At that point, it seemed, it was already too late.
“We couldn’t get by them as easily as we would’ve liked,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “I thought they did a terrific job of hedging ball screens, being very aggressive without fouling…. We didn’t get many opportunities, and the ones that we were able to get we didn’t finish or didn’t cash in.”
Moundou-Missi would miss several more short corner jumpers, ultimately connecting on just one-of-eight field goal attempts. Neither of his fellow big men, junior Evan Cummins and senior Kenyatta Smith, were able to get a shot up on the afternoon, and the three combined for only four boards.
CENTER OF ATTENTION
For the first 25 minutes of the game, the Cavaliers’ Tobey outscored the entire Harvard team. With just 15 minutes remaining, the 7’0”, 253-pound center had 15 points. The Crimson had 12.
It was Tobey’s offensive onslaught in the afternoon’s opening moments that broke the contest open early on, and it was his work on the defensive glass that kept the visiting squad at bay.
“I thought we’d be ready, but I didn’t know we’d be that ready,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “I didn’t know [Tobey] was going to be on fire…. He obviously got us off to a great start offensively.”