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Harvard men’s basketball (6-3) remained perfect at home on Wednesday after defeating American University, 80-75, before falling to Loyola Chicago, 75-53, on the road Saturday afternoon.
The win against American marked the Crimson’s first game at home after completing a four game road trip, which included wins over University of Massachusetts and Colgate and losses to Boston College and Indiana.
Against the Eagles, the Crimson were led once again by first-year guard Malik Mack, who posted an incredibly efficient 26 points off of 4-of-4 three-pointers, 8-of-10 field goals, and all six of his free throws. As of Wednesday night, Mack ranked 15th in the NCAA D1 standings in points per game, averaging 21.8 with eight games played and standing alone as the only first-year in the top 100.
Mack was asked about his offensive performance after the game, which included 22 first-half points on 8-for-8 shooting.
“I was just taking what the defense was giving me,” Mack said. “Second half was a little different, they changed their defense up, so it opened it up for other guys.”
Sophomore forward Chisom Okpara had a potent offensive night, scoring a season high 23 points off of 8-for-14 shooting from the field in addition to a team-high six rebounds.
All in all, the Crimson shot 52.8% from the field, including 10-of-19 three-point shots, a new season high. Harvard’s three point shooting has been good this season. It averages 39.7% from beyond the arc in comparison to 29.8% from its opponents. The return of junior guard Louis Lesmond, who missed most of last season to injury, has certainly helped. Lesmond has made 22 three point shots this season on 40.7% efficiency.
Prior to its game against American, Harvard played against Indiana University in Gainbridge Fieldhouse, the home of the NBA’s Indiana Pacers. It was a hard fought contest for the Crimson, who led 40-39 at half, but ultimately were outscored in the second half by a defiant Hoosiers team. Despite the 89-76 win for the home side, Mack played out a clinical 27-point performance, including a beautiful, leaning three-point buzzer beater to end the first half.
The Crimson lost senior forward Justice Ajogbor for the second period to a hand injury, which made it much more difficult for Harvard to stop seven-foot sophomore center Kel'el Ware. Ware posted a game high 28 points on 12-of-13 field goals, with all but one of his shots coming from inside the paint. Without Ajobor’s presence around the rim, the Crimson struggled to cope with the size of Indiana’s roster.
Before his injury, Ajogbor stood first in NCAA D1 in total blocks (19) at an average of 3.17 per game, contributing massively to the Crimson’s defensive efforts.
Head Coach Tommy Amaker spoke about how the team will be tested in new ways with Ajogbor’s absence.
“Justice saved baskets by being a good shotblocker, so we could make a mistake on the perimeter and the guys get in there and then here comes Justice and he erases, you know, if you get two to three blocks a game, that's four to six points a game that he's basically taken away,” Coach Amaker explained.
“The other thing about it is that when he's on the floor, even if he doesn't have to block a shot, they know he's down there. And, it deters some of that,” the head coach added coach Amaker.
Ajogbor underwent a successful right hand surgery following the game, but will be out for “an indefinite amount of time,” Amaker noted.
Saturday afternoon’s away game against Loyola proved difficult for the Crimson, who trailed the Ramblers by as many as 24 points (39-15) in the first half and was unable to come within 13 points throughout the second enroute to a 75-53 defeat, its third of the season.
At the core of Harvard’s struggles was poor shooting from the field. The Crimson managed to shoot just 13-of-53 field goal attempts, including only 28% from inside the paint, and 19% from three-point range. Harvard was also outplayed on the break, where Loyola played quickly and was able to record 21 fast breaks to Harvard’s 12.
After a challenging schedule to open the season, which included six away games compared to three at home, the Crimson will now enjoy a run of four consecutive games at Lavietes Pavilion leading up to its Ivy League opener away to Princeton on Jan. 6.
Harvard’s next game will be at 7:00 pm EST on Friday, Dec. 8 against Army West Point. The game will be streamed on ESPN+.
— Staff writer Alexander K. Bell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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