BOSTON – Now that the season is here, we got our first look at a question many wondered before the season: how would Harvard deal with its embarrassment of riches in personnel? It was a question that made sense on the surface, but anyone who has been around the program knows it’s one that should have been easily answered long before the Crimson knocked off Holy Cross on Sunday at the Boston Garden.
The starting lineup might have surprised some, with both Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey on the floor at the opening tip. With both having sat out last season, there is surely a rust factor of sorts, but one can figure they earned their spots. More surprising, however, might have been the presence of junior Steve Moundou-Missi, only because he’s been so good coming off the bench and has no problem with doing so. Head coach Tommy Amaker has said they refer to Moundou-Missi as their sixth starter.
But that might be the look the Crimson have for a while, as Kenyatta Smith is out indefinitely with a foot injury suffered in practice, and reading between the lines one gets a sense that in this case, “indefinitely” means an extended period of time. While it will make personnel matters easier in terms of balancing minutes, it won’t help since Smith can be a game-changer inside as he showed during Ivy League play last year when he emerged. It will open the door for more minutes and a bigger role for Jonah Travis, among others, and on Sunday he came through with 20 points on 7-10 shooting and ten rebounds. That just shows that they can absorb this loss better than many teams can.
Still, chemistry and egos are unlikely to be problems for this team. Certainly, one might wonder if there are enough minutes for the team’s top players given the addition of two prior starters to last season’s team. However, this is a team full of terrific kids that already understand how the game is played and the team concept. The ideas of sacrificing for the team and sharing the ball on offense are not foreign to this team.
Helping to demonstrate the latter was the Crimson assisting on 18 of 29 baskets on Sunday. Curry and Chambers each had six assists, while Wesley Saunders added four to go with 18 points. All three guards can be playmakers, although Saunders won’t have that as a primary responsibility like he did at times last year since the Crimson have the options they have on the perimeter. Still, he’s so good at doing so that you can expect him to rack up plenty of assists this season.
“I think naturally a lot of the players on our team are really unselfish,” said Saunders, who led the Ivy League in scoring last year. “I think that is something we don’t have to worry about, we just do it naturally.”
One player who came off the bench on Sunday, Laurent Rivard, was fine doing that earlier in his career. He had a role to play and did it well. He’ll do it again now, as he did Sunday with 11 points on 4-7 shooting including 3-6 from long range. His shooting ability makes him a perfect guy to come in off the bench, and all he wants to do is win.
Holy Cross gave Harvard all they could handle. The Crusaders led by as many as eight in the first half, and Dave Dudzinski single-handedly kept them in the game with 20 points on 7-9 shooting (he would finish with 25). While the Crimson were more athletic up front, Dudzinski routinely shot right over his man, a sign of what they may have to contend with while Smith is out. The Crusaders battled back in the second half, even taking the lead briefly at 61-60 with less than six minutes to go.
Harvard won with five players scoring between 11 and 20 points, to go along with a 44-27 rebounding edge, 18 assists and 12 turnovers. The Crimson did a lot of things right, although they were pushed in this one. In all, though, they handled their first game with a lot of personnel options just fine, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if they handle every other game this season in the same way from that standpoint: without missing a beat.