For the Crimson, this one meant a lot. Both Harvard and Yale walked into Payne Whitney Gym Friday night undefeated in Ivy League play. Harvard had the best overall record; Yale second. Harvard had the best Ivy scoring defense; Yale, the best scoring offense. But for the Crimson, Payne Whitney itself may have been the biggest hurdle of all. Twice last year, Harvard suffered soul-crushing losses in New Haven: first, a 70-69 loss to the Bulldogs on a layup from Jeremy Kreisberg, and then again on a jumper from Douglas Davis in the Ivy tiebreak last March.
The stands, predictably, were packed beyond capacity. Both teams struggled to get on the scoreboard early, with the #23 ranked Crimson striking first at the 17:07 mark. Yale forward Jeremiah Kreisberg quickly evened the score with a jumper of his own, but Harvard answered by extending the lead to a 9-4 advantage.
The Bulldogs would respond, establishing a 1 point lead, 12-11, at the 10:46 mark on a trey from Jesse Pritchard. From the halfway point in the 1st, however, Yale would only add another 8 points as the Harvard defense held the Bulldogs to 6-20 shooting in the first frame. The Crimson hit the locker room with an 11 point lead, 30-19.
If the Harvard defense had been stiff in the first half, it would be nigh impenetrable in the second. The Bulldogs shot 7-21 from the floor and added 16 points to their tally; Harvard more than doubled that, scoring 35 on 12 for 23 shooting (.522) and 9-11 from the line in the second. As time expired, Harvard had closed out its largest ever win (by margin of victory) over the Bulldogs, 65-35, as well as its largest win of the season (by the same marker).
Greg Mangano, the Ivy League’s leading scorer, was the lone bright spot of the night for the Bulldogs. Mangano scored 17 (8-16) and also grabbed 4 boards. Yale’s next leading scorer, Jeremiah Kreisberg, had only 4.
Harvard was led on the night by the efforts of two underclassmen. Laurent Rivard finished on the night with 18 points (5-8, 2-5 from 3, 6-6 FT), while freshman Steve Mondou-Missi added 10. Harvard’s two starting forwards, Keith Wright and Kyle Casey, added 7 and 5 respectively.
Asked at the postgame press conference if Friday’s win was especially meaningful, Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker paused, then smiled: “Yes.”
After their shortest layover since the Battle for Atlantis in November, the Crimson turned around Saturday to take on the Brown Bears in Providence, Rhode Island. Coach Amaker, speaking just after the Friday night contest, admitted the challenges of such a quick rebound. “Obviously our guys are excited, and we’re hopeful that we can continue that, because we’re going to need to because they shoot the ball very well from the perimeter and they’ve always shot well against us, so we’re going to have our hands full.”
Apparently in defiance of such concerns, the Crimson charged out of the gates at Pizzitola Sports Center. In what may have been the squad’s most energetic start of the year, Harvard jumped out to a 13-3 lead in the first five minutes.
A pair of Brown baskets off of Crimson turnovers narrowed the gap back to 5 at the 13:00 mark. The Bears would go on to slim the lead to two, 18-16, with 9:29 to play in the first. Harvard’s hopes of a repeat runaway seemingly dashed (Yale scored 19 points in the entire first half), the Crimson continued to battle through a relatively mistake-prone first. Harvard committed 6 turnovers to Brown’s 3, and the Bears tacked on an additional 4 steals (Harvard had 1). Even so, at the break, the Crimson had managed to cling to a narrow four-point advantage, 31-27.
Harvard took a short warmup at the half (the players only came back onto the court 1:30 before the start of the 2nd), but started the second strong. In the first four minutes, the Crimson shot 4 of 6 from the floor, while holding the Bears to 0 for 4 in the same stretch. The run was capped by a trey from Laurent Rivard, who put Harvard up 42-27 with 15:53 remaining. Although Brown would fight back to a single digit deficit with 11:53 remaining, Harvard held a double-digit lead for most of the second frame. As the final buzzer sounded, Harvard closed out its fourth Ivy League win, 68-59, to improve to 18-2 on the 2011-2012 season.
If Harvard’s reserves were the unexpected source of much of Harvard’s offensive dynamism against the Yale Bulldogs, their impact was less noticeable on Saturday. Aside from Steve Mondou-Missi, who was 3 for 6 with 10 rebounds in 19 minutes of play, the bench accounted for only 6 points and 2 rebounds, compared to 25 points and 12 rebounds against Yale. “This game got a little dicey for us for a little bit and I stuck with our veterans,” said Amaker afterwards. “Our bench is going to be up and down because they’re young…but certainly the minutes were still very good for them and the production was outstanding.”
In comparison with Friday, Harvard’s starters played a much more central role. Kyle Casey went 9-15 and led all scorers with 20 total points, while Curry added 15, going 8-9 from the charity stripe. Keith Wright also scored 9, and reeled in 11 boards. Harvard outrebounded Brown 39-25 on the night. In addition to the glass, the Bears also struggled from the stripe, converting on only 11 of 20 opportunities.
Next weekend, Harvard returns to the friendly confines of Lavietes Pavilion to host the Cornell Big Red and the Columbia Lions. Saturday’s contest will be live on 95.3 FM in the greater Boston area, as well as streaming live worldwide at www.whrb.org Video and audio will also be available to subcribers on GoCrimson.com.