PHILADELPHIA, Pa.—Different gym, same result.
For the second time in four weeks, the Harvard men’s basketball team (21-4, 8-1 Ivy) rolled over Penn (6-16, 3-5), this time by a 20-point margin at the Palestra, 83-63. After a three-point loss to the Quakers in the teams’ final meeting of 2013, the Crimson has outscored its Pennsylvania rivals by 50 points in the squads' two matchups this season. The win kept the Crimson undefeated on the road in league play.
“Certainly, I thought it was a tremendous team effort by our kids, and I thought we really played an efficient brand of basketball,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “We talked about trying to bring great effort and efficiency, and when you look at the numbers and the balance, we played an efficient evening of basketball.”
The Crimson capitalized on the two strengths of the team that Amaker has preached all year: its bench and its balance. Six different Crimson players had at least nine points as Harvard moved the ball well, assisting on 17 of 26 field goals. Harvard got 23 points from its bench, which also contributed seven of the team’s 13 steals—its second-highest total of the season.
Sophomore guard Siyani Chambers led Harvard with a season-high 10 assists, running the pick-and-roll effectively all night, while senior forward Kyle Casey and junior forward Steve Moundou-Missi combined for 26 points on 9-of-16 shooting. Junior wing Wesley Saunders added 12 points, going a perfect 6-of-6 from the charity stripe.
“There is a presence and a feel about [Chambers]—he is a born leader,” Amaker said. “You can see how he can orchestrate and quarterback a team. His ability to be an outstanding ball handler relieves pressure, and he sees the floor incredibly well to find people.”
The game followed a similar script to the teams’ first meeting of 2014, an 80-50 Harvard win at Lavietes Pavilion. After trading baskets early in the contest—when sophomore Tony Hicks sunk a jumper for the Quakers, Penn trailed by just two with 9:35 left in the first period—Harvard closed the half on a 24-14 run, taking a 41-29 lead into the break with a layup by co-captain Brandyn Curry at the buzzer.
Like the contest in Cambridge, in which a big Crimson run broke the game open early in the second half, Harvard came out of the locker room and scored 12 of the first 15 second period points in Philadelphia. The lead reached 26 with 8:41 to go and never fell below 19 in the last 14 minutes of play.
“That’s why we say we always want to close the half and start the half,” Curry said. “The first four and the last four [minutes] are the most important. That sequence right there gave us a lot of momentum coming into halftime, and we had a great start to the half.”
The win was Harvard’s fifth straight in conference road play. The team won only five league games on the road all of last year, dropping three of its final five efforts—including back-to-back contests against Princeton and Penn during the season’s penultimate weekend.
“Anytime you can come on the road and have a solid performance, especially here in this arena, we are pleased with our kids,” Amaker said. “We are just focused on being the best we can be this year, and we recognize how every game is critical with the way the conference is going down the stretch.”
On the defensive end, Harvard made a living out of backcourt pressure. Curry and Chambers combined for six steals, as both guards consistently jumped into passing lanes and got out into the open court. The Crimson outscored the Quakers, 8-0, in fast break points, and turned 20 Penn turnovers into 24 points on the other end.
“I thought that was the big key to the game,” Amaker said. “We got to the foul line 35 times and shot a good percentage, but the way we were able to get out on the floor…. Our ability to grab loose balls and find things early, that was the key for the game.”
Curry said that the squad’s defensive success is contagious, with teammates inspired by their peers’ efforts on the floor.
“It starts up top with the guards,” Curry said. “When we see Siyani [or] me pick it off the floor, it gives us a lot of energy. Then [when] we see Wes and Guns [sophomore Agunwa Okolie] get us steals on the wings, it makes everybody want to defend harder. You don’t want to be that guy to mess up.”
—Staff writer David Freed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @CrimsonDPFreed.
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