For the first 32 minutes, Tuesday night’s game at Holy Cross was reminiscent of last year’s early season matchup against Bryant. In both instances, Harvard played down to the level of its opponent—so far beneath its potential that you had to wonder if the Crimson would be able to snap out of its funk in time to avoid the loss. This time, Harvard didn’t need to rally in the last minute as it did against the Bulldogs, instead relying on a spark from freshman forward Wesley Saunders to jumpstart a decisive run over the final eight minutes of a 73-64 win.
Still, the game raised cause for concern. The Crimson had trouble on the boards for the second time in as many games. Undersized, less athletic MIT and Holy Cross squads have outrebounded Harvard 26-23 and 25-22, respectively (with an offensive rebounding percentage of almost 50 for the Crusaders last night). It seemed, , that the Crimson had position in the post for much of the night but the Crusaders simply outworked their opponents for 50-50 rebounds or else Harvard had trouble securing the ball. Turnovers, too, signaled carelessness on the Crimson’s part. Saunders, Keith Wright, and Kyle Casey coughed up possessions three, four, and five times apiece. In total, Harvard tallied 15 turnovers against just 12 assists.
The major positive development for the Crimson was its ability to get to the free throw line. Harvard asserted itself in the post offensively, and Holy Cross’s top three forwards—Dave Dudzinski, Phil Beans, and Taylor Apt—fouled out in the second half thanks to the yeoman’s work of Wright and Casey, who chipped in a casual 15 and 16 points. The payoff of this aggressiveness was 25 free throw attempts (compared to just 12 for the Crusaders), of which Harvard knocked down 18.
Also encouraging was the progress of a pair of rookies. In the first half, Steve Mondou-Missi went three for three from the field for six points, including two of the final three buckets in the half to turn a six-point deficit into a 34-34 tie. Saunders gave the Crimson a big lift down the stretch, as he contributed a steal and three and-ones (though, to be fair, one foul call was dubious) in a two-minute stretch en route to scoring 10 second-half points. The depth that these two freshmen provide in the frontcourt is, already, a clear upgrade over last year’s combination of Andrew Van Nest and Jeff Georgatos (which begs the question of whether last year’s team would have pulled out this victory).
What’s evident from Tuesday night’s result is that Harvard has a long way to go. It’s still searching for a rhythm and quite vulnerable, as its schedule only grows more difficult. But the victory was also perversely satisfying. After all, the hallmark of a good team is playing poorly and still finding a way win.