A gritty defensive performance propelled the Harvard men’s basketball team (10-3, 1-0 Ivy) to its first conference victory of the season Saturday, a 57-46 decision over host Dartmouth (6-7, 0-1). Despite 17 team turnovers and just 19 minutes from senior wing Wesley Saunders, Harvard won on the road by holding the Big Green to just 33 percent shooting from the floor.
FIRING FROM THE HIP
The story of the game was sophomore guard Corbin Miller. The team’s first guard off the bench is Harvard coach Tommy Amaker’s “sixth starter” and a sparkplug for a Crimson offense that, through the first half of the season, is still struggling to find its identity.
Miller’s eight straight points midway through the first half were emblematic of what he brings to the team. Unlike recently graduated Laurent Rivard ’14—to whom Miller is often, lazily compared—Miller is unafraid of taking shots both off the dribble and in motion. Twice in the game, he up-faked a Big Green defender and calmly moved past to drain a deep jumper.
Miller is not in Rivard’s league as a defender, but he shares the former sharpshooter’s ability to take care of the ball—his 9.6 percent turnover rate is the lowest on the team—and accuracy from three (37.9 percent shooting).
“He is a terrific shooter, and it is nice when his teammates are aggressively looking for him,” Amaker said. “It gives him a lot of confidence, which it should. Like anyone else, he gets a rhythm.”
Eleven of Miller’s season-high 16 points came in the first half Saturday, as he nearly outscored the entire starting lineup (which totaled 16 first-half points) on his own. His three with less than six minutes remaining put Harvard up 14, its biggest margin of the game. On a night where Harvard’s two lead guards—Saunders and junior co-captain Siyani Chambers—combined for 10 turnovers, Miller didn’t commit a single error in 28 minutes of play.
“We like that rhythm that he brings off the bench,” Amaker said. “He’s a starter who just happens to come off the bench for us right now, and I think he likes that role. He is able to watch the game and analyze it a bit, and we slide him in there a bit and he’s been able to be really effective for us.”
While turnovers bogged down a Harvard offense that otherwise made 50 percent of its shots, the Dartmouth offense had a different problem—an inability to shoot. The Big Green made just six of its 20 three-pointers on the day, with leading scorer Alex Mitola hounded into a two-for-nine shooting night by Harvard’s cadre of guards.
Miller, who rotated in occasionally defending Mitola when Saunders went to the bench, said that the team’s defensive mentality centers on each player doing his part.
“We’ve got our rules defensively, and it’s to lock in and do our jobs individual and make sure we are talking and giving 100 percent,” Miller said.
For the fifth time this season, Harvard held an opponent to 20 points or less in a half when the Big Green managed just 20 in the opening frame. Dartmouth forward Connor Boehm’s four-for-six, 11-point second half helped keep the game close as his teammates made just five of their 16 second-half attempts.
At one point, Dartmouth went without a point for seven minutes, preventing the Big Green from ever getting closer than five even as Harvard’s offense stagnated.
LOST IN THE SWIM
Among the less notable but more indicative lines of the box score was that of senior forward Jonah Travis. A starter in the team’s first two games, Travis was sidelined with injuries for nearly a month and a half before coming in as a last-minute substitute against Virginia.
Since getting back, Travis has played increasingly sporadically. He had 20 minutes in the loss to Arizona State, taking the floor after starting center Kenyatta Smith struggled, but has tallied just 16 minutes in the three games since. Most of the minutes have been absorbed by sophomore Zena Edosomwan, who had a relatively quiet seven minutes (zero points, one rebound) Saturday.
Travis was even less effective against Dartmouth, with no field goal attempts or a rebound—just a turnover to show for the day’s work. He appears to have fallen to fifth in the depth chart, a sharp decline for a core member of the team’s forward rotation.
—Staff writer David Freed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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