With nine minutes left in the first half, the Harvard bench looked up at the scoreboard at Matthews Arena with despair. The team had put up just 11 points in the half and trailed the Huskies by 21.
Despite a spirited late first-half run that saw the Crimson come within seven to close the period, the Harvard men’s basketball team was ultimately unable to bring the game to a close score late and fell 77-61 to Northeastern on the road.
The Crimson (3-5) struggled mightily from beyond the arc, going just 3-for-17 on the night. The tough shooting would do little to improve the 0.287 mark held by Harvard entering the game, and appeared to be the one of the biggest concerns for coach Tommy Amaker’s drive-and-kick offense.
“It’s demoralizing when you can’t make open shots,” Amaker said. “It is surprising that we haven’t been able to shoot the ball better from the perimeter than we have shown thus far. We are hoping that at some point [making threes] will help us and obviously tonight it was a good reason why we weren’t able to generate any offense.”
Northeastern (3-4) started the contest with two easy layups in the paint, while Harvard turned the ball over on three back-to-back possessions. This start was largely a harbinger for the remainder of the half.
The Crimson struggled to find any offensive consistency in the opening ten minutes. At the 11:18 mark, Northeastern held a 24-11 lead and was four-for-six from three-point range. By comparison, the Crimson had already tallied six turnovers and had just one assist.
Throughout the night Harvard looked to sophomore point guard Bryce Aiken and sophomore forward Chris Lewis to generate offense for the team throughout the game. Aiken and Lewis combined for 46 of the Crimson’s 61 points, while the Harvard bench only contributed four points.
“[Aiken] is just so quick and shifty on the ball,” Huskies coach Bill Coen said. “He is almost impossible to guard. We knew Lewis would be big inside...those are two players we didn’t have great matchups on, but we worked at it and we didn’t let the other guys get free [shots].”
A late 15-2 run by the Crimson gave Amaker’s team some rejuvenation heading into the locker room.
Down 14 points with two minutes to go in the first half, sophomore forward Robert Baker found Aiken at the left corner. Aiken knocked down that bucket, and later pick-pocketed freshman guard Tomas Murphy before dishing it to sophomore forward Justin Bassey for the easy layup in the waning seconds of the first half
Compared to the disastrous start, a seven points first half deficit gave the Crimson momentum heading into the locker room. The late run would prove to be as close as Harvard would get, however.
Northeastern held steady for most of the second half, extending the lead to 60-46 with 7:28 left in the contest. Redshirt junior Vasa Pusica led the Huskies with 22 points, shooting 3-for-5 from beyond the arc.
The Crimson also encountered challenges on the defensive end in the second half, allowing both easy baskets at the rim and giving perimeter weapons like Pusica room to shoot. Northeastern snatched 13 offensive rebounds and scored 32 of its 77 points from the paint in the contest.
Coming off a difficult week and recovering from illness, sophomore forward Seth Towns was a non-factor for the Crimson and would play just 11 minutes in the game. Shooting 1-of-6 from the field, Towns was left on the bench by Amaker to start the second half and never was able to gain traction on the offensive end, particularly on isolation plays.
“I thought he really hurt us.” Amaker said. “He’s got to be better for us if we are going to have the team we are supposed to have. We are disappointed in his effort and he did not play well at all.”
Harvard was never able to recover from its second-half hole, and ultimately turned to its bench players after the Huskies extended its lead to 15 with 2:39 left in the game. Freshman forward Reed Farley and Rio Haskett saw some action off the bench, but combined to go 1-of-7 from the field on the night.
“We are trying to get them involved but if we can’t make open baskets, there is nothing else we can do,” Amaker said. “[Aiken and Lewis] need help. Right now we are not getting it from the other guys.”
—Staff writer Henry Zhu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.