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Harvard uses its depth to overcome injuries early on

November 22, 2013 Columns No Comments

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – As Harvard gets ready for a big stretch, the Crimson have lived up to expectations in a couple of respects thus far. They are 4-0 after handling Bryant on Wednesday night 86-68 in a manner similar to how Bryant dispatched Vermont a few nights earlier. They are also utilizing the depth they have, albeit perhaps not in the manner or for reasons they had hoped before the season.

Come game time, Harvard doesn’t have the depth right now that they were thought to before the season. Kenyatta Smith and Brandyn Curry are both out, taking one away from both the frontcourt and backcourt. This team has absorbed those losses about as well as one would expect, and that’s where their depth has come in. They are hopeful of getting Curry back at Colorado, while Smith’s left foot remains in a boot and thus he won’t be coming back anytime soon.

It also helps that the Crimson had a couple of blowouts mixed in early on, as that has kept down the minutes of some of the starters. So far, the only player averaging over 30 minutes a game is Curry, and that’s because he played 37 in the one game he’s appeared in. But unless Curry gets back soon and someone else emerges, a few players may pile up the minutes.

On Wednesday night, three starters played at least 30 minutes and only one reserve saw double-digit minutes (Jonah Travis, who played 22). This is a game that Harvard won convincingly, one where they led by double digits for a lot of the second half. They were up against an explosive offensive team in Bryant, so they couldn’t let up, but the minutes are a sign that another player or two has not yet emerged that Tommy Amaker can feel comfortable putting out there for more minutes.

“We felt like we never could pull away to make ourselves really comfortable,” said the Harvard mentor.

The frontcourt is where the most candidates seem to be. Agunwa Okolie is an intriguing prospect who didn’t play much last season, and on Wednesday he played just six minutes. Evan Cummins played just five, with both of them producing virtually identical stat lines. Zena Edosomwan is not ready for much of a role right now, although he did get a rebound and block one of 11 shots on the night in two minutes.

The perimeter is a different story for now, with all three perimeter starters logging over 30 minutes on Wednesday. They can manage there, however, by playing Kyle Casey at small forward to rest one of them. Alex Nesbitt is in the mix and played at times last season, but they probably don’t want to go to him for a lot of minutes in a relatively close game.

“Everybody is always ready,” said junior Wesley Saunders. “I think a lot of last season, we were down a few guys, so guys got those reps in practice and it might have helped out a little now.”

Added Steve Moundou-Missi, who had a career night with 23 points on 10-15 shooting to go with nine rebounds and four blocked shots: “Coach has a saying, stay ready so you don’t have to get ready.”

The player who really earned his keep on Wednesday was Saunders. He is sure to be a strong candidate for Ivy League Player of the Year, and on Wednesday he sure looked like one with 25 points on 7-9 shooting, five assists and four rebounds, in addition to doing a great job defending Bryant guard Dyami Starks. The nation’s leading scorer, Starks scored 100 points in his first three games, but had just 11 on 3-10 shooting on Wednesday. Saunders was often there right on the catch, not letting Starks start to make a move or get a quick shot off.

“Wesley is our most talented player, he’s our best player,” said Amaker, who admitted he was harder on Saunders than he probably should have been. “For him to score what he scored in addition to guarding Starks was an outstanding effort on his part playing 37 minutes.”

Harvard now heads on the road for a month, and it includes some big challenges. They first go to Colorado, then will be the favorites in the Great Alaska Shootout before going across town to play Northeastern and Boston University. Playing three games in four days in Anchorage will be the closest thing to a test of this team’s depth, but the blowouts gave them a chance to get some others into a game. The hope is that in time they don’t have to utilize their depth so much to absorb injury losses as to overwhelm opponents.

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