UPDATED: December 7, 2016, at 12:10 a.m.
Freshman forward Seth Towns’s name may be splashed across the box score from Tuesday night’s 86-80 victory over Northeastern (4-5) for the Harvard men’s basketball team (3-4), but the win actually showed how dangerous Harvard’s depth can be.
Towns contributed a career-high 24 points in the contest, but when asked to describe his performance, he shifted the conversation to his teammate and captain, Siyani Chambers.
“Well honestly, it comes easy with the people that I’m playing with,” Towns said. “Especially with [Chambers] at point guard. He’s the best point guard I’ve ever played with.”
When the mic went to Chambers to respond, Chambers turned the attention away from himself and towards the rest of his teammates, nearly going through the whole roster of 20 names and pointing to the difference each player makes.
On Tuesday night, there were big individual performances. Towns’s career night. Sophomore guard Corey Johnson hit seven threes, a career-high, on just 10 attempts. Chambers and fellow senior Zena Edosomwan had double-doubles.
But there were also little performances that made an impact as the game remained close going into the waning minutes—blocks on a team that dominated the paint, ball-handling to help break a press, free throws to maintain a cushion down the stretch. Overall, 12 Harvard players saw the floor, which was equal to the number of heads on Northeastern’s entire roster.
“One to 20, everybody is important,” Chambers said. “It’s a team effort. It’s not one person, it’s not a couple people, it’s everybody, one to 20.”
The game put a young Harvard team in nearly every type of game situation, from being up by 20 to maintaining a two possession lead with under three minutes to go. Prior to Tuesday, the team had been on the opposite side of similar situations, but not yet on the positive side of both circumstances.
“We’re going through the ebbs and flows, and we did a lot of things today in order to win,” Chambers said. “We have to take this as a learning experience and try not to make those mistakes and not give up a 20-point lead where we believe we should have won a little more comfortably and not let it get all the way down. But on the other end of it, we’re really happy that we could pull it out.”
After going into the locker room with a 40-27 lead, Chambers was concerned with making sure his team came out in the second half with high energy. In past games, the team has struggled with complacency, allowing teams to get back in the game while Harvard relaxes rather than pushing the envelope.
The team did just that on Tuesday, eventually stretching the lead to 20. Up 59-41, freshman forward Chris Lewis laid a block on Northeastern’s Alex Murphy, while Miller corralled the rebound, brought the ball down the floor, and missed a layup. Lewis, however, was behind him to dunk the ball right back, bringing the crowd to its feet and forcing Huskies’ coach Bill Coen to call a timeout.
With seemingly all the momentum on its side, Harvard brought the ball back down the floor but struggled to find an open look. With the shot clock waning down, freshman guard Bryce Aiken drove to the hoop in traffic and lofted a layup as the buzzer rang. The shot fell, but the refs had to review the play to see if Aiken got it off in time. After several minutes of deliberation, the initial call of a made basket was reversed.
“I thought we were caught back on our heels in the second half even though we had close to a 20-point lead,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “That play that we didn’t get the basket to count on Bryce really changed the whole momentum and dynamics of things.”
From there, Northeastern took the swing in momentum and went on a 12-0 run, with the Crimson going over four minutes without a made field goal. After the lead dropped to single digits, two free throws from Towns broke the ice for Harvard, then Johnson hit one of his seven threes on the next offensive possession.
Though the teams traded baskets for several minutes, the Huskies eventually pulled within four. At the under-four media timeout, Amaker pulled Edosomwan and put Miller in. Two possessions later, Miller hit his only shot of the game, a shot several feet behind the arc with a hand in his face that had the crowd and the Harvard bench on their feet. The trey put Harvard up 79-72 with 1:43 remaining and gave the team momentum it wouldn’t relinquish.
But the Crimson doesn’t have much time to celebrate. The team faces another local foe on Wednesday in Boston College.
At one point when Chambers was quiet in the press conference, he was asked what he was thinking about. Towns promptly responded, “tomorrow’s win.”
—Staff writer Theresa C. Hebert can be reached at email@example.com.