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NOTEBOOK: Men's Basketball Turns the Page in Win Over Bryant

By Andrew Farber, Crimson Staff Writer

Taking advantage of its size advantage and minimizing turnovers, the Harvard men's basketball team (11-4, 1-0 Ivy) overcame some weak shooting in the earlygoing Tuesday to bounce back from its loss to Boston College a week prior.

GETTING BIG

After missing nearly all of his junior campaign with a broken foot, senior center Kenyatta Smith found himself on the bench again Tuesday night, this time due to a sprained knee suffered his last time out at Boston College. Despite the absence of its 6’8” center, the Crimson was still able to utilize its size advantage in the 66-57 win over Bryant (8-8, 5-1 NEC).

The height difference was noticeable at nearly every position. On the interior, captain Steve Moundou-Missi and sophomore Zena Edosomwan quickly picked up the slack for Smith. The duo combined for 28 points, 12 of which came from the charity stripe, as the Bulldogs were forced to foul in order to contain the big men.

"[Smith] is like one of my big brothers on the team along with all the other bigs," Edosomwan said. "It was obviously tough losing him, so when coach [Amaker] told me I was starting, all I wanted to do was contribute."

Both Moundou-Missi and Edosomwan also found success on the defensive end, blocking two shots and one shot, respectively, as well as altering plenty more. In fact, Moundou-Missi moved into fifth place on Harvard's all-time career blocks list with his 112th blocked shot.

“We were able to get a cushion and push it through with [Steve and Zena],” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “These two guys came through big time for us in the second half."

On the perimeter, senior Wesley Saunders and junior Agunwa Okolie both stood a solid four inches over their defenders. As a result, both Saunders and Okolie, who combined for 18 points, were able to drive to the paint and rise above their defenders.

Furthermore, they were able to use their length to frustrate Bryant’s leading scorer, sophomore Dyami Starks, holding the guard under 32 percent shooting from the floor.

Though Starks would finish the night with a game-high 18 points, Saunders and Okolie both used their significant size advantage to slow him down.

"Agunwa [was] a really good defensive stopper on the perimeter—he and Wesley both," Amaker said. "We need every layer...so the fact that [we] are relying on each other, which is the way basketball should be played, I love it."

TURNING OVER A NEW LEAF

Taking care of the ball has been one of the biggest conundrums for the Crimson this season. In its four losses this year, Harvard has averaged 16 turnovers, and its inability to handle the rock has proven to be an Achilles heel for Amaker’s squad.

On Tuesday night, the Crimson turned the ball over just eight times, only the third time this year it has recorded fewer than 10 giveaways. Much of that success can be attributed to the focus and tenacity that junior point guard Siyani Chambers brought to the hardwood.

"I thought [Siyani] played a good floor game...and I thought he did a terrific job pressuring the ball throughout the game," Amaker said. "That was one of the keys for us."

The speedy Chambers pushed the ball up the court from the opening whistle, enforcing his pace into the game and challenging Bryant’s guards to stay with him.

Chambers finished the night with only a single turnover, which allowed him to continue to run the break without worrying about wasting possessions. Similarly, Saunders only turned the ball over once, following a tough loss against Boston College where the reigning Ivy League Player of the Year had seven turnovers.

IN-AND-OUT

For the first seven minutes of Tuesday’s contest, Harvard struggled to score, as it pounded the ball inside to Edosomwan. Nonetheless, the constant dishing inside did pay early dividends.

After struggling to get off the block early at the Chace Athletic Center, Chambers found sophomore sharpshooter Corbin Miller in the corner, who swiftly knocked down a rhythm jumper from beyond the arc. The three sparked a much needed 9-0 run for Harvard, igniting the offense and helping spread the Bulldogs defense.

“We always try to play inside-out,” Amaker said. “We are a little on egg shells with our post guys. As the game went on, and they had some more success, I thought they became a little bit more confident."

While Harvard would only add two more buckets from three-point range, the post presence of Moundou-Missi and Edosomwan created open jump shots for both Miller and Chambers. As a result, the Crimson may have found its identity just in time before heading back into conference play against Dartmouth Saturday.

In recent years, sharpshooter Laurent Rivard ‘14, Harvard’s all-time leading three-point shooter, would stretch defenses by creating lanes for both Saunders and Chambers to attack the basket. This season, the absence of Rivard has caused those lanes to become much tighter, as wing players are able to help off the ball and clog up the lane.

As a result, the ability of Moundou-Missi and Edosomwan to assert themselves provided a window into a different offensive attack that could prove vital for Harvard in the Ancient Eight. Though Harvard will certainly have to shoot a higher percentage from beyond the arc to be successful in Ivy League play, the Crimson will exercise a similar interior height advantage, which should leave Miller and Chambers open to knock down jump shots.

—Staff writer Andrew Farber can be reached at andrew.farber@thecrimson.com.

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