For the first three games of the new year, something seemed just a little bit off. To be fair, the Crimson were still 2 and 1 in 2012 coming into Lavietes on Saturday morning. But even so, it felt as if some sort of malaise had descended over the Harvard squad. Obviously, the loss to Fordham—when the Rams were able to shut down the Crimson inside and Harvard shot 8-30 from the arc—looms largest in this run. But even against the Big Green and the Monmouth Hawks, both divisional bottom-dwellers, Harvard refused to put either away early: Monmouth overcame two double-digit deficits to get within one, and Dartmouth even led by six in the second at Lavietes.
Today’s matchup, the last nonconference game of the 2011-2012 regular season campaign, was a final chance to regain the spark that had helped the team to lead 119 of the 120 minutes they played in the Battle for Atlantis before the start of Ivy League play. The Crimson, perhaps cognizant of that very fact, played phenomenally from post to post, put together their best performance since the 69-46 win over Boston College on December 29th.
Harvard jumped out to an early 4-0 lead off of a pair of baskets from senior cocaptains Oliver McNally and Keith Wright. Kyle Casey would extend the margin to an 8-1 advantage with a dunk off of an inbound pass from Oliver McNally at the 16:18 mark. The Crimson went to Wright and Casey repeatedly in the early going, seeking to establish a strong presence down low—Wright went to the locker room at the half 4 for 4 from the floor with 8 points, while Kyle was 2-2 with 6. At the break, Harvard led the Colonials 33-13.
Coming out of the intermission, GW struck first, with a pair of layups from Lasan Kromah and Dwayne Smith narrowing the lead to 15. That, though, was as close as the Colonials would get, as a 4-point play from Laurent Rivard put the Crimson back up by 19. Harvard would finish the game 24-37 (.649) from the floor, and 4-8 from 3 in a 69-48 victory.
In the end, sophomore guard Laurent Rivard, in his second start for the Crimson this season, had another impressive showing, shooting 4-5 from the field and 3-4 from 3. Rivard also found his way to the line for five shots, three of which came from a foul by Jabari Edwards beyond the arc at the buzzer, and the other two by virtue of a pair of and-one four point plays. “I knew they were going to jump on my shot,” said Rivard after the game, “so I just thought take my shot and stay focused. It was the first time [I’d ever had two four point plays], so I was pretty excited.”
Freshman forward Steve Mondou-Missi also put up a career effort. Mondou-Missi, who finished the game 7-7 from the floor and 1-1 from the line, tied Rivard with a team-leading 16 points. In addition to his first career three (on his second career attempt), Mondou-Missi contributed with a pair of impressive slam-dunks, including a running leap along the baseline from the right corner. Perhaps the only blemish on the day for Mondou-Missi came after his second dunk, when he was charged a technical foul for a one-handed hang on the rim.
The Harvard defense remained characteristically impregnable. Coming into the game ranked sixth in the nation in scoring defense (55.5 PPG), the Crimson held George Washington to an astounding 13 points in the first half. That tally surpassed Harvard’s 14-point defensive effort against FSU in the second round of the Battle for Atlantis. The Colonials shot 15% (3-20) from the floor in the first, and were without a field goal in the final 12 minutes of the frame. A significant factor in the Crimson’s defensive dominance was their ability to limit senior guard Tony Taylor, the Colonial’s leading scorer at 13.3 PPG, to 3-12 on the day, and 0-3 from beyond the arc.
The Crimson put together the victory without two of its more prominent guards in the lineup. Christian Webster, who had, up to Tuesday’s game against Monmouth, started all of the Crimson’s 15 matchups, remained sidelined with a hip injury. Corbin Miller, a freshman guard who had seen action in 14 straight contests, also did not dress for the third straight game. Miller has shot 56.5% from the perimeter this season, including going four for five from long range against Boston College.
With the win, the Crimson improve to 15-2 on the season, while the Colonials fall to 6-11. Harvard is 2-1 against A10 opponents this year.
After the game, Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker downplayed the significance of the 21-point win for the Crimson going forward. “You never know about those things,” said Amaker. “We’re going to see if we can practice well next week and get prepared for our first conference road game, which will be very challenging for us and very different for our younger guys.” Fortunately enough for Amaker’s squad, Harvard will benefit from a light schedule in the coming week, with only a single contest (against the Big Green) next weekend to occupy their attention.