HANOVER, NH—Ivy League play has started, and this year, the Harvard men’s basketball team is ready.
Last season when the Crimson traveled to Dartmouth to face its travel partner, it was a much different team. Missing senior co-captain Siyani Chambers to injury and without the prowess of this year’s freshmen, head coach Tommy Amaker’s team lost to the Big Green, 63-50.
But this year was different. In its Ancient Eight opener, the Crimson (7-4) flashed its defensive prowess with a balanced offensive performance to defeat Dartmouth (3-11) with a 74-58 victory.
Harvard was once again led by a pair of freshmen, but not the typical freshmen. Though rookies Bryce Aiken and Seth Towns have been the team’s leading scorers over the past few weeks, it was classmates Chris Lewis and Justin Bassey who led the team with 14 points apiece Saturday night. Aiken and Towns, on the other hand, had just three apiece.
“That’s the difference of having the bench for us,” Amaker said. “Given different production from different players to make up for things. We’re very hopeful that we’re going to be a team that when one or two guys have a tough night that we’re going to be able to pick that up and maybe even expand.”
Not only did Bassey lead the team on the stat sheet, but he was a key cog in a 10-0 run that gave Harvard breathing room when they found themselves down four past the halfway mark in the first frame.
The Denver, Colo. native started the spree with a baseline triple assisted by Chambers. Just over a minute later after junior forward Chris Egi failed to complete a three-point play, Bassey secured the rebound off the free throw, which eventually reached freshman Robert Baker for a corner three banked off the backboard to put the team up 24-18.
Despite the 10 unanswered points, it only took one shot for Miles Wright to pull his team back within one possession as he hit a three with 4:57 to play in the first half. While Harvard would eventually get the gap up to 12 in the frame, the Big Green got it down to seven as the clock expired.
Lewis, on the other hand, made his presence known on the offensive end in the second half. While the Crimson outscored the Big Green 14-8 in the paint in the first half, they exploded for 26 inside points in the second frame, compared to just 10 for Dartmouth. Lewis had 10 of his 14 in the second period, and shot 7-of-8 overall from the floor in the game. The rookie currently leads the Ivy League in field goal percentage.
Amaker credited wearing down the defense with his fresh legs from the bench as a key contributor to the open looks his team found in the second half. This was particularly seen with Dartmouth’s reigning Ivy League Rookie of the Year, Evan Boudreaux. Boudreaux put up strong numbers with 15 points and 14 rebounds, but was inefficient, shooting only 4-of-13 from the floor.
“We were able to have...timely efforts out of different players that came in and gave us minutes,” Amaker said. “I thought they really made the difference in wearing them down and getting so fatigued there.”
Though Harvard pushed the lead to 15 on multiple occasions, the Big Green never folded. With 4:34 remaining in the game, Dartmouth got the difference down to nine off of a pair of free throws from Boudreaux, but sophomore guard Corey Johnson responded with a layup on the other end to push the lead back to double digits and keep it there for good.
Dartmouth did not have a field goal in the last 5:39, following a Boudreaux triple, which Johnson erased with one of his own on the other end.
“Being on the road you really have to stick together,” Chambers said. “There’s going to be some ebbs and flows to the game, there’s going to be high points and low points and through it all we have to stay together and just trust each other and trust the system and trust our coaches and trust what got us here.”
—Staff writer Theresa Hebert can be reached at email@example.com