Sophomore forwards Seth Towns and Chris Lewis—the team’s top two leading scorers who were active for the game—looked on from the scorer’s table, preparing to check in with four personal fouls. Junior guard Corey Johnson, typically the team’s three-point specialist, flew down the right side of the court. His layup attempt, which would have cut the hosts’ lead to single digits for the first time in nearly four minutes, hung in the air. But was promptly swatted out of it by GW freshman guard Terry Nolan Jr.
Harvard retained possession, but the big block, which brought many of the 2,421 fans in attendance to their feet, proved to be the Crimson’s last stand. The hosts scored on their next two offensive possessions to go up 15 with under four minutes to go, effectively dashing Harvard’s hopes of a comeback victory. Saturday afternoon’s affair was one of frustration and inefficiency on the offensive end as the Crimson (5-7) ultimately fell to the Colonials (7-6), 58-48.
“We shot the ball very poorly and to do that on the road isn’t a very good formula for trying to eek out and steal a win,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “I thought we had chances to make it very interesting and needed stop[s] at the end of the shot clock.”
With sophomore point guard Bryce Aiken sidelined with an injury, Harvard struggled to find stability on the offensive end. The team made just 16 field goals on the afternoon and shot just 28.1 percent from the field. The 48 points were the second-fewest that the Crimson has scored in a game this season and a far cry from the 67.4 points per contest that it was averaging before Saturday.
For the second straight game, Amaker went with an unconventional starting lineup in an attempt to jumpstart his team. While the tactic worked wonders in the team’s 11-point victory over BU—Harvard led by seven at the game’s first media timeout against the Terriers—it proved to be disastrous on Saturday afternoon. The starting five of seniors Andre Chatfield, Chris Egi, and Zach Yoshor and juniors Robbie Feinberg and Weisner Perez did not register a point and was yanked en masse after a mere 146 seconds of game action.
The new quintet was not the antidote that Amaker was looking for either. GW scored the game’s first nine points and the Crimson did not get on the scoreboard until 14:54 remained in the first half. However, Harvard used a flurry of three-pointers and free throws to stay with the Colonials, keeping the deficit to single digits for most of the first half despite the team’s first two-point basket coming with 11:23 to play in the frame.
A familiar face led the charge for GW. Forward Patrick Steeves, a 2016 graduate of Harvard whose four years in Cambridge were characterized by a series of injuries, exploited the Crimson’s inexperience on the defensive end. The Montreal native scored 13 of the Colonials’ first 18 points, hitting on long range jumpers, throwing down dunks, and netting free throws. Harvard had no answer for the rangy 6’8” wing—Amaker’s decision to go zone or man-to-man did not matter.
“Obviously, he played great and really gave them the spark they needed in the first half,” Amaker said. “I thought he was spectacular and really came right at us in the post, something he was able to do when we had him and we certainly miss it now.”
At halftime, Steeves had accounted for half of GW’s points. On the Colonials’ first possession after the break, he responded to the Crimson’s zone by rattling in a jumper. Steeves finished the game with 19 points, nine rebounds, and four assists.
Despite the slow start from Harvard, the result was still largely in question when the teams arrived at the locker room. Towns led the charge on the offensive end and Johnson and sophomore guard Christian Juzang combined for 12 points before the break. While the team made just three of its 15 field goals from two-point range, its five first half triples allowed it to stay in the game.
On several occasions, GW slammed the door or the Crimson shot itself in the foot just as it appeared to be mustering some momentum.
“We talked before the game that we need a lot of positive possessions,” Johnson said. “A few of our possessions that were very detrimental, we didn’t have positive possessions and gave the ball away. That kind of stuff gets us out of our rhythm.”
After cutting the deficit to six before intermission, Harvard scored just eight of the second half’s first 25 points. After Towns hit a big three to get the guests within five, classmate Justin Bassey let loose an errant pass that began a 7-0 Colonials run. After Lewis wowed the crowd with a near-monster dunk, the sophomore missed the two ensuing free throws and GW senior guard Yuta Watanabe responded with a triple. After the Crimson switched to zone and Lewis threw home a dunk, Towns picked up his fourth personal foul with over 10 minutes still to play.
“We did try everything, just in terms of different looks, combinations, trying to find something that could give us some kind of momentum to give us a spark,” Amaker said. “You give them credit, they’re good players, pass the ball really well, were unselfish.”
Lewis picked up his fourth personal four minutes after Towns did, with his team trailing by 11. Until the duo returned, the team’s offense would largely run through Bassey, who had missed each of his first four field goal attempts on the afternoon, and Johnson, who attempted more two-point field goals on Saturday than he had in his previous six games combined.
“It was good to see [the aggressiveness from Johnson],” Amaker said. “They were jamming him a little bit and he was showing them that he could drive it so he was certainly trying to do that... he was trying to get there, which was great to see.”
With Lewis and Towns—the only two Harvard players who scored in double figures—on the bench, Johnson once again went to the well but Nolan effectively dashed any last remnants of a comeback campaign from the Crimson with the block. The lack of offensive execution down the stretch for Harvard, as it had all afternoon, turned into easy baskets for the Colonials on the other end.
“We need to pick it up and we’re working everyday, we’re going to get better everyday,” Johnson said. “We’re never going to be satisfied with where we’re at no matter how good or how poorly we think we’re playing so we’ve always got to be better everyday in practice.”
—Staff writer Stephen J. Gleason can be reached at email@example.com.
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