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Notebook: Men's Basketball Downed by Balanced Columbia Attack

Most Important Player
Senior forward Agunwa Okolie, shown in previous action against Columbia earlier this season, was described by Harvard coach Tommy Amaker as the team's "most important player" Friday night after Okolie scored 20 points and snagged five rebounds against Columbia.

NEW YORK—The Harvard men’s basketball team dropped its second consecutive contest as the Crimson fell to Columbia, 90-76, on Friday night. Harvard (10-15, 2-7 Ivy League) allowed its most points of the season as the Lions (18-8, 7-2) capitalized on 13 Harvard turnovers and put the game out of reach with a 51-point second half. It is the first time that the Crimson has conceded 90 points in a non-overtime Ivy League contest since Feb. 13, 2009.

SPREADING THE FLOOR

Harvard was doomed by a balanced Columbia offensive attack on Friday night. While Harvard coach Tommy Amaker utilized a bevy of defensive strategies in an attempt to slow down the Lions, the Crimson was unable to consistently keep the hosts off the scoreboard.

“They have a lot of firepower,” Amaker said. “[Senior guard Maodo] Lo is a big time difference maker with his ability to carry the team in stretches if they need that and the plays he can make off the bounce and the ability to spread the floor with shooters. I think they become a very dangerous team.”

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Lo was second on the team with 22 points, but it was the team’s balance and the matchup problems it created that propelled Columbia to the season sweep of Harvard. Senior forward Alex Rosenberg finished with 23 points and the big man’s ability to extend out past the three-point line made him a nightmare to guard. With senior forward Agunwa Okolie on him, Rosenberg found his teammates whereas when captain Evan Cummins covered him, the Short Hills, N.J. native exhibited his shooting range.

While the Crimson has faced off against teams with zone busters this season, it was the supporting cast that proved to be the difference in New York. Nine different players scored for the Lions, including junior forward Chris McComber, who drained two three-pointers, and junior forward Jeff Coby, who took advantage of the overextended Harvard defense and went six-of-seven from the charity stripe.

“It’s very tough,” Okolie said. “All five positions can drive the ball and all five positions can shoot the ball so it’s really tough. We could have stayed in front, got lost in our rotations but they just stretched us out and made threes.”

The Crimson went with a smaller lineup down the stretch in an attempt to contain Columbia’s shooters. Okolie slid down to power forward while freshman forward Weisner Perez logged 16 minutes, his most since Feb. 5, primarily guarding the Lions’ fours and fives.

GUNNIN’ FOR IT

Okolie was a bright spot on both ends of the floor for Harvard. The senior shouldered the offensive load for the Crimson in the first half, scoring 11 points before the intermission while having to cover Lo or Rosenberg on the other end. It took Okolie almost eight minutes to score his first points of the second half, but he led his team on the defensive end and chipped in rebounds and assists as his team cut into the five-point halftime deficit.

“It’s obvious that he is our most important player,” Amaker said. “We’ve had to move him all around the floor; not only does he have to guard guys like that but we need him to score for us. He’s as productive and as efficient as anyone on the offensive end for us. There’s nothing more that we can ask him to accomplish for our team.”

Being Harvard’s most versatile and important player is something few could have predicted entering the season. The senior was the Crimson’s defensive specialist but averaged only 4.3 points per game last year. Okolie has kept up the defensive pressure but has also posted 12 double-digit scoring outputs and is second on the team in rebounds per game.

Okolie was the glue that held Harvard together on a night when it allowed Columbia to shoot 57 percent from the field. The Ajax, Ontario native led all players with 35 minutes of game action and was the Crimson’s high man in points, assists, and rebounds.

“He’s our X-factor for sure,” said freshman point guard Tommy McCarthy. “He is one of our best players, if not our best player. He brings it every night. On defense, he does whatever we ask of him—he guards each position. He is really versatile and his offensive game this year has progressively got better and better and better and I think his confidence has gone way up.”

—Staff writer Stephen J. Gleason can be reached at stephen.gleason@thecrimson.com.

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