In the two games the Harvard and Yale men’s basketball teams have played against each other this season, they’ve played in front of sold out crowds. Two weeks ago, it was the Payne Whitney Gym in New Haven. This time, it was Lavietes Pavilion. The first time around, the home crowd was silenced as the Crimson defeated the Elis on the road, 75-67. But at Lavietes, it was the home fans who stayed on their feet and got to tell Yale to “warm up the bus” as the seconds ticked off the clock.
In front of 2,195 fans donning Crimson and waving Zena Edosomwan fat heads, Harvard (17-7, 9-2 Ivy League) defeated Yale (14-10, 6-5), 77-64. The home team was led by freshmen guard Bryce Aiken and Seth Towns, who had 22 and 18 points, respectively.
BATTLING FOR THE BOARDS
When talking X’s and O’s, Harvard coach Tommy Amaker’s main goal against Yale was to be competitive on the glass. Bulldogs’ forward Sam Downey is second in the Ancient Eight in rebounds per game and was able to exploit Harvard’s frontcourt during the first half of the first iteration of the HY rivalry this season.
In the first half, it appeared Amaker’s goal of winning the rebounding game would fall short, as the visitors outrebounded the Crimson, 24-11, including seven offensive boards compared to Harvard’s zero. Despite struggling to keep the Elis off the offensive glass, Yale struggled to convert on its opportunities, as it had just nine second-chance points off of 12 total offensive rebounds.
That turned around in the second half, as the Crimson outrebounded Yale, 21-13 coming out of the locker room.
“I think in the second we did a better job of defending second chance shots and getting rebounds,” senior forward Zena Edosomwan said. “It’s just important as bigs to get inside. We didn’t do a good job earlier, but it got better as the game went on.”
Towns led the Crimson with eight rebounds, while freshmen Justin Bassey and Chris Lewis had six apiece.
TOMMY AMAKER’S FAVORITE WORD
When meeting with the press earlier this week, Amaker referred to balance as “one of my favorite words,” and it appears that his extensive emphasis on the subject came through on Friday night.
On Friday, that balance came through on both ends of the floor.
“I mean you look at our numbers and the balance we talk about trying to get,” Amaker said. “I thought we had tremendous balance and a great effort by everybody to put us in a position to get a victory here tonight and set us up something tomorrow and to close out our season here at home and our senior evening.”
Offensively, Harvard had three players in double-digits, with Aiken (22 points), Towns (18), and Edosomwan (15). The scoring was efficient, with the team connecting on 55.4 percent of its field goals, including 66.7 percent in the second frame. Harvard was taking high probability shots, with Edosomwan scoring on dunks and open layups created by Eli doubling up defenders, leaving space for Edosomwan. Several of Aiken’s buckets came without a hand in his face, as the rookie showed off his immense ball-handling skills, sending Yale freshman Miye Oni to the ground with an ankle-breaking crossover behind the arc.
While sophomore guard Corey Johnson played limited minutes after missing both of last weekend’s games with an illness, the combined hot hands of Aiken and Towns relieved the pressure of Johnson to be a scoring presence.
On defense, the Crimson neutralized Oni for much of the night and limiting the efficiency of the frontcourt duo of Downey and Blake Reynolds, who combined for 25 points on 9-of-24 shooting. Freshman guard Justin Bassey was tasked with guarding Oni for much of the night as the 6’6’’ Oni tends to create a size mismatch for most defenders.
“I do think that we switched a little bit in terms of not giving [Oni] lanes in terms of driving it on the ball screen action,” Amaker said. “I think he missed some shots he would ordinarily make... He’s a tremendous player, tremendous offensive player but certainly we were able to contest some shots and make it difficult.”
Six different Harvard players also recorded steals, four of whom had multiple takeaways, with Aiken leading the way with three.
—Staff writer Theresa C. Hebert can be reached at email@example.com