A red hot shooting start allowed the Harvard men’s basketball team to jump out to a 30-12 lead over Columbia on Friday night at Lavietes Pavilion. The Lions roared back after the intermission, taking a one-point lead with 3:12 to go. However, a late 9-2 run allowed the Crimson to eke out a 78-72 win and avenge a three-point road loss to the Light Blue.
Forwards Chris Lewis and Zena Edosomwan both found themselves in foul trouble on a night when sophomore sharpshooter Corey Johnson was sidelined with an illness. While the hosts did concede 14 offensive rebounds, the trio of co-captain Siyani Chambers, freshman Bryce Aiken, and fellow first-year Seth Towns provided the big shots that the Crimson (15-7, 7-2 Ivy League) needed to come out on top. Columbia (10-12, 4-5) was paced by freshman guard Mike Smith, who contributed 14 points despite being held to 6-of-19 shooting.
Harvard had trailed at halftime in seven of its first eight Ivy League games entering Friday, but you would never know it given the clinic that the Crimson put on during the game’s opening minutes. Columbia coach Jim Engles had his team come out in zone to begin the contest, a logical response to an abysmal shooting performance from Harvard when the teams met in New York three weekends ago. The Crimson made its first six shots—all of them two-point field goals—to jump out to a 12-4 edge before the game’s first media timeout.
“We had a terrific start and I thought our kids were ready to play,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “We shot it well early and I thought that gave them a lot of energy and excitement.”
The Crimson made seven of its 27 field goal attempts in the first half of the teams’ first meeting. Harvard’s seventh field goal on Friday came on its eight shot attempt of the evening—with 15:46 still to play before intermission.
While the Crimson did cool off, it steamrolled into halftime with a 46-30 lead despite only making two three-pointers before the break. The 46 points were the most by Harvard in an Ivy League contest this season and the 16-point lead was the Crimson’s largest halftime lead since December.
Harvard shot 58 percent from the field in the frame and saw nine different players register at least one field goal. It was by far the best start that the Crimson has had in an Ivy League game this season and was quite a change of pace for a team that has had to overcome double-digit deficits in four Ivy League wins this season.
“We really tried to focus on getting off to a better start this game because we’ve been lacking in that department,” Chambers said. “We’re really just trying to stick to our rules and just on offense move the ball and have player movement and really try to find the open man and let the shot come to you.”
Sophomore forward Weisner Perez was a secret weapon on Harvard’s team from a season ago. The 6’6” Quincy resident may not have the size of a typical college power forward but his shooting range and strength made him an ideal fit for Amaker against teams utilizing smaller lineups. Perez’s star grew after he dropped 15 points in a nationally televised road game against Kansas during December of his freshman year, but the native of Berwyn, Ill., a town 11 miles west of Chicago, struggled to find his way into Amaker’s rotation during his second year in Cambridge—he logged just eight minutes in the team’s 13 nonconference tilts. Since Ivy League play has commenced, however, Perez has spent much less time on the pine and more time in big spots for his team.
“He put together some practices that were just terrific,” Amaker said. “I think that sends the right message to our team, guys keep competing and get after it. It’s been rewarded and he’s been able to produce.”
After playing 10 minutes in each of last weekend’s matchups, Perez logged 13 minutes against the Lions. While he only converted one field goal, he hit five free throws, recorded six rebounds (including two on the offensive end), and teamed up with the 6’7” Towns down the stretch to neutralize the Columbia potent senior front line of 6’8” Jeff Coby and 6’10” Luke Petracek.
Perez and Towns combined to corral the game’s final three rebounds for Harvard and the former’s two free throws made it a two-possession game, something it would stay the rest of the way. Despite Lewis and Edosomwan combining for just 30 minutes and eight fouls, the Lions’ starting front court went just 5-of-18 from the field on the evening. Perez, recruited as a small forward out of high school, proved he could hang with the big boys on Friday.
“Everybody gets reps with everybody in practice,” Towns said. “I’m comfortable playing with him, he’s a bull, he’s a hard worker, so it’s easy playing with a guy like him. Credit to him, he was huge for us tonight.”
—Staff writer Stephen J. Gleason can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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