NOTEBOOK: Sound Backcourt and Defense Aids Men's Basketball in Win

Classmates Wesley Saunders and Steve Moundou-Missi ended their 2014 on a high note with a win over Grand Canyon.
Robert F Worley

Seniors Wesley Saunders and Steve Moundou-Missi were integral parts of Harvard's 72-59 win over Grand Canyon Tuesday night.

The Harvard men’s basketball team (8-3) halted its losing streak at two games with a 72-59 win Tuesday night against the Grand Canyon Antelopes (8-8). After scoring just 73 points combined in its previous two contests—losses to Virginia and Arizona State—the Crimson carved up a soft Antelope defense to the tune of 52 percent shooting from the field and 50 percent from three.


Much of Harvard’s offense Tuesday night came from its starting backcourt of senior wing Wesley Saunders and junior co-captain Siyani Chambers. Chambers, who came in shooting just 31 percent from the field, made five of his 10 shots and led all scorers with 16 points.

“We came out with more energy this game,” said Saunders, who had 15 points and six assists in just 33 minutes. “We knew it was basically a must-win.”

Saunders and Chambers have been the offensive engines thus far this season, combining for just over 26 points and nearly eight assists a game. On a team that averages 63.5 points a contest, the combined output of its starting two guards is responsible for nearly two-thirds of the offense.


Consequently, the team often goes as its guards go.

Against Virginia, when the two combined to miss all 17 shots without an assist, the Crimson posted its worst offensive performance of the season. The pair had 25 points against Arizona State—just over half of the team’s combined 46—but only four assists. When they had 23 in the first half, Harvard stayed within four, but their one-for-nine combined shooting in the second was the primary culprit in an 18-point output and 10-point loss.


On the defensive end, the Crimson suffocated the Antelope offense by closing out hard on three-point shooters and forcing Grand Canyon’s four-guard offense to beat it inside. Harvard used its size advantage to post a 38-24 rebounding advantage and rebounded nearly a third of its misses on the day. Co-captain Steve Moundou-Missi led the way with 10 rebounds and two blocks, continuing his steady play all season on the defensive end.

“We knew they were going to play small with four guards out on the perimeter so we knew we would have that edge with size,” Moundou-Missi said.

On the season, Harvard has barely outrebounded its opponents, giving up 32.3 boards a game and pulling down 33.1, and relies on wing players like Saunders and junior Agunwa Okolie to help its power forwards clean the glass. The two combined for 11 more rebounds Sunday, stepping up with starting center senior Kenyatta Smith in foul trouble.

The contributions of Smith, who played just 11 minutes with foul trouble and pulled down one rebound, were duplicated by sophomore Zena Edosomwan, who struggling shooting the ball but had six rebounds and a block in just seven minutes of playing time.

“Before the game, Coach summed it up perfectly [in saying] that you come at the game with a purpose and no matter what you are going to fight,” Moundou-Missi said. “That’s what we did tonight.”


The game was just Harvard’s fifth away from home this year, and was the Crimson’s finest performance outside the confines of Lavietes Pavilion. Harvard came into the game having lost three of four road/neutral site contests, getting blitzed in each contest out of the gate.

Against Grand Canyon, Harvard sprinted out to an early 14-7 point lead seven minutes in behind three quick triples. The Crimson extended the lead to 13 on a Siyani Chambers trey with 8:38 remaining in the half and never let it dip below seven the rest of the way.

“It was really important for us to get off to a good start; I thought that was critical,” Amaker said. “I thought we gained some confidence seeing the ball go through the basket, which is something we struggled with in the last two games.”

—Staff writer David Freed can be reached at


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