It was an appropriate ending on a night when Harvard (1-1) struggled mightily to defend the three-point line, dropping its first game of the season by a 81-71 mark at home to crosstown rival Northeastern (1-1). For the second straight season, the Huskies dispatched the Crimson in large part due to a remarkable performance by George Washington transfer Jordan Roland.
After sitting out last season, the redshirt junior came off the bench to score a career-high 35 points in his second game at Northeastern, knocking down a career-high 7-of-10 three-pointers, and hitting 10-of-11 from the charity stripe. Northeastern coach Bill Coen was thrilled with Roland’s performance Friday night, exalting the Syracuse, N.Y., native’s skill set.
“[Roland]’s a young man that just has a natural gift to score the ball, he’s got a strange combination of elite quickness and deep shooting range,” Coen said. “He’s got that kind of mindset where once he sees the ball get in the basket he can go on a roll. He’s a microwave in that way.”
Roland wasn’t the only Husky to find success beyond the arc, as the visitors scored 39 of their 81 points from three-point land at an impressive 56.5 percent clip. Northeastern repeatedly exposed Harvard’s perimeter defense, relying heavily on skip passes and ball screens to find Roland and other shooters.
Roland’s play was integral in helping the Huskies extend their lead late in the second half. A back-and-forth affair had the Crimson trailing by as few as three points with just over two minutes left in the game. But ultimately, Harvard proved unable to string together enough stops as Northeastern scored a whopping 48 points in the second half, and pulled away in the dying minutes of the game.
The Huskies performed excellently at the charity stripe as well, punishing the hosts for committing fouls. Northeastern converted on 20 of its 22 free throw attempts, which helped the visitors seal the game late.
“Our defense has to get tougher and they have to understand how hard it is each possession in order to be a winning basketball program,” said Harvard coach Tommy Amaker of the team’s performance. “We had some big plays, but we didn’t get the defensive stops we needed.”
The Crimson led for almost all of the first half, as the first 20 minutes proved to be a series of runs for both teams. After Gresham sunk a jumper on the first possession of the game, Harvard rattled off a 7-0 run capped by a Christian Juzang three-pointer. A pair of three-pointers by Freedman off the bench stretched the Crimson’s lead to double-digits, but the Huskies would respond with a 14-0 run of their own, with the exclamation marks coming on two Roland three-pointers on consecutive possessions.
Like it did on Tuesday against MIT, Harvard ran into foul trouble early in the game. Highly touted freshman Noah Kirkwood entered the game off the bench, and committed three fouls within the span of 36 seconds, forcing Juzang to play 19 of 20 first-half minutes. The junior guard led the Crimson with 35 minutes, and will figure to factor heavily into the team’s plans until Bryce Aiken returns from injury. The Tarzana, Calif., native was displeased with his team’s defense in Friday’s contest.
“35 points is not acceptable,” Juzang said. “The energy is good, but it can only get greater after something like this when you now know the consequences of when you don't lock down on the defensive end.”
As the first half drew to a close, Harvard’s sophomore guard Rio Haskett entered the three-point shooting fray, knocking in two deep triples of his own. The Richmond, Va., native had eight first-half points to lead the Crimson, who managed to knot the score up at 33 entering halftime. Haskett would finish with 15 points as Harvard’s second-leading scorer.
“I thought Rio played hard I thought he really competed, he certainly shot the ball well,” Amaker said. “I thought his play was one of the reasons we were within striking distance.”
Junior forward Chris Lewis led the Crimson with 17 points, and played an integral role in keeping Harvard in the game late. Just as Northeastern opened up an eight-point lead, its largest of the game at that point, Lewis scored seven unanswered points on consecutive possessions — including a steal and full-court breakaway for a dunk.
The Alpharetta, Ga., native’s play was one of a few bright spots for the Crimson, but even Lewis struggled late in the game when double-teamed far away from the basket. Despite the final result, coach Coen was impressed by the 6’ 9” forward’s performance and the maturity he exuded.
“[Lewis] is a tremendous low post player, he scores the ball easily,” Coen said. “What I really like about him is he never changes his demeanor. There's a lot of players going on him, guys playing physically, but he's always controls his emotions, he's got a great demeanor.”
The season remains young, with a challenging series of road games looming in the non-conference portion of the schedule. As the Crimson look to establish its identity without juniors Aiken and Seth Towns, the team will have to continue to correct the little mistakes.
Through two games, Harvard has struggled to control these errors, from offensive rebounding and turnovers against MIT, to foul trouble and perimeter defense against the Huskies. Amaker and the Crimson will hope to improve in these areas, and solidify the foundation of what Harvard hopes will be an Ivy Championship-winning season.
The Crimson will travel to Amherst for its first road game of the season to take on the University of Massachusetts next Tuesday at 7:00pm.
— Staff writer Amir Mamdani can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @AMamdaniTHC.
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