The Harvard men’s basketball team was able to clinch a spot in the second annual Ivy League Tournament by topping Yale, 64-49, on Saturday night in a nationally televised game at Lavietes Pavilion. The win was the fifth straight for the Crimson and allowed it to keep pace Penn—its opponent next next Saturday night in Philadelphia—for the top spot in the conference.
Much like in its last battle with the Bulldogs, Harvard (14-11, 9-1 Ivy League) came out fast and rode a strong first half to victory. However, unlike in the first meeting, Yale (12-14, 5-5) was never able to get within striking distance after the break. The guests trimmed their halftime deficit from 20 to 9 but the Crimson had enough answers on the offensive end to keep the 1,636 fans in attendance at relative ease.
Four Harvard players were in double figures and the team shot a blistering 46.3 percent from the field, its third-highest mark in a home game this season. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs, which entered the contest leading the Ivy League in field goal percentage, scored just 49 points to mark their fewest in a game this year.
STARTING FAST, TAKE TWO
In the teams’ first meeting, Harvard came out of the starting blocks on fire. For a club that was struggling mightily on the offensive end at the time, the opening half against Yale was arguably the best basketball that the Crimson had played up to that point in the season. Harvard made 11 of its first 18 field goals that night and junior guard Corey Johnson was outscoring the Bulldogs on his own for much of the first half.
For as dominant as it looked in New Haven three weekends ago, the Crimson outdid itself on Saturday night. Sophomore forward Chris Lewis started the scoring party by scoring the first eight points for Harvard and 10 of its first 14—the sophomore was already in double-figures just 6:10 into the contest.
“I think we’re all at our best when we’re playing base, with our defense initiating our offense getting down the court,” sophomore guard Christian Juzang said. “Lew did a great job of spreading the lane, opening it up for wings, wings did the same thing opening it up for Lew and when we get into that transition defense into our secondary offense, it flows really nice and rhythm shots come out of it.”
However, it was after Lewis recorded his tenth point that the Crimson’s runaway train departed the station. The hosts went on a 17-0 run over the next eight-plus minutes to put the game largely out of reach before it arrived at its midpoint. It was difficult to tell during the stretch whether it was the Harvard offense or its defense that was more dominant since the two ends of the floor played so seamlessly into one another during the run.
“It’s not all just one-sided it is how you get there,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “We were energized and playing pretty well. We were in a good rhythm and had momentum and they didn’t. Sometimes that can snowball in the opposite direction for them. You can miss shots and now we are defending and energized even more where we are getting stops and run-outs to play offense on the other end.”
All told, the Crimson went 7-of-12 from the field over the span while also forcing misses on all eight of Yale’s field goal attempts and causing four turnovers.
WHO NEEDS THE THREES?
Perhaps what was most impressive on the offensive end during the 17-0 run was the ball movement from Harvard, which led to easy baskets possession after possession. Of the 17 points scored during the stretch, the Crimson only attempted two three-point field goals (making one) but 12 points came in the paint off of layups and dunks, and two were via the free throw line.
After living and dying by the three earlier in conference play—Harvard averaged 25.3 three-point attempts in its first six Ancient Eight games—the Crimson has been more successful in recent games at getting easier baskets by playing through Lewis and its frontcourt. Harvard has averaged just 16.75 three-pointers per game over its last four contests, which has resulted in a two-point field goal percentage of 49 percent in those games.
“We want to have great balance,” Amaker said. “That’s the key for our team. We talk a lot about bench and balance. Our bench was tremendous. We never want to be one-dimensional offensively. We wanted people to maybe react to how we are playing and then we feel like if that is how they are doing this, we have the other portions of our offensive game to kick in.”
Opposing coaches have employed different strategies on how to guard Lewis. Penn coach Steve Donahue refused to double-team the Harvard sophomore and paid for it as Lewis posted a career-high 25 points in a nine-point Crimson win. Yale head man James Jones opted for the same tactic in the first half and was rewarded by watching his team allow 24 points in the paint.
“We got in in there, and Chris delivered,” Amaker said. “That changes things, when you are trying to guard a big guy like that, what are you going to do. Do you play off on other guys? Do you double down? He caused them to change some things. That’s hopefully what we can do to different teams by having a tremendous post up player like Chris Lewis.”
Once Yale began doubling down in the paint, Harvard’s field goal percentage dropped—it shot just 38.5 percent in the second half—but the Crimson was still able to corral five offensive rebounds and keep the Bulldogs at arm’s length despite not shooting the lights out. Perhaps the only way to slow down Lewis and Harvard is by getting the big man into foul trouble on the other end.
—Staff writer Stephen J. Gleason can be reached at email@example.com.
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