The Harvard men put on an impressive showing last night in Lavietes Pavilion, pushing past the Rice Owls from C-USA, 85-64. The Crimson move to 6-1 on the season, its best start in 25 years. It was quite a performance: I had been expecting a little tougher competition from the Owls, whose only losses before last night came at the hands of national powerhouses Arizona and Texas (Rice was only trailing by 5 against the Longhorns in the second half before faltering.) Harvard clearly was the better team last night though: the score was close for about the first ten minutes, through which the Crimson had a one point lead, before the floor dropped out on Rice, and Harvard was able to take a 14 point lead into halftime. From then on, the game was never in doubt, as Harvard would extend it to a 25 point lead before cruising to the win, shooting a lights-out 60.8% from the field.
I called the game last night alongside Charlie Hobbs as part of our annual Sports Orgy on WHRB, and the contest was the second half of a double header that also featured the Harvard women knocking off Holy Cross.
After the jump, you'll find my thoughts on the Crimson's winning effort.
1. Turning Defense into Offense
The Crimson defense was stifling last night, holding Rice to only 26 points at halftime. They forced 18 turnovers, and the most impressive aspect from last night was their ability to get points off of turnovers: immediately after blocks or steals, the Crimson would race down the court for a bucket. A constant last night was the sight of guard Oliver McNally or Christian Webster capitalizing on a fast break opportunity, as Harvard scored 18 points on fast break opportunities . The referees were certainly calling the game very loosely and were 'letting them play', and this worked to the Crimson's advantage as they were able to be extremely aggressive on defense: Harvard scored 23 points off of Rice turnovers.
2. Strong interior play
We stressed at the beginning of the broadcast that Harvard would need their big men to step up against the athletic Rice frontcourt, and the Crimson responded by blocking 10 Owl shots. Keith Wright, one of our players of the game, led the team with 3 blocks, and Pat Magnarelli and Kyle Casey each had two. The Harvard frontcourt was an obstacle for Rice: although the Owl guards were able to penetrate into the lane early in the first half, that opening quickly closed as Wright, Casey, Magnarelli, and Doug Miller all stepped up.
Wright was also the game's leading scorer, contributing 16 points on 8-10 shooting. Wright has really come along this season, averaging 9.9 points per game after an up-and-down freshman campaign. The two seniors, Magnarelli and Miller, both added solid contributions: Magnarelli had 8 points in addition to the two blocks, and Miller added 4 points and was a strong presence inside.
3. The Future Is Bright, Especially at Point Guard
Anyone who follows Harvard basketball understands the step up in recruiting that Tommy Amaker has given the Crimson since his arrival, and Harvard's roster is loaded with young talent (12 Crimson are freshmen or sophomores). The future is extremely bright, and while Kyle Casey and Dee Geiger are big men who have contributed immediately, I want to focus on the point guard position. Christian Webster has moved in to a starting role, and last night chipped in 10 points and 3 assists. Brandyn Curry, another freshman, added 7 points and 2 assists. Together with sophomore Oliver Mcnally (13 points and 7 assists), alot will be expected from the Harvard backcourt in the next couple of years.
4. Great Ball Movement
Although this does not show up in the box score, I was very impressed with the Crimson's passing and ball movement. Each possession, Harvard was completing six or seven passes before taking a shot. This is the mark of an Amaker-coached team and enabled them to control the clock, shorten the game, and find the best available shot. They do need to cut down on sloppiness, however (I know its early in the season!), as Harvard committed 21 turnovers.
5. Free Throw Shooting Is an Asset to this Team
Harvard was 19-22 from the free throw stripe last night, good for 87%, and is shooting in the high-70% range on the season. Although the season is young, this ranks as one of the top rates in the nation and will be something that could help propel them to the top of the Ivy League.
So, there is certainly a lot of buzz around the Harvard basketball program right now (see Andy Katz's mention on ESPN.com). At 6-1, Harvard will now turn to three tough, big time opponents on the road: UConn, Boston College, and Georgetown. The UConn game can be seen on Sunday at 7pm on ESPN360.com. Go Crimson!