Harvard stifled Dartmouth for a 57-46 win in Hanover on Saturday night to move to 1-0 on this young Ivy League season. The win is the Crimson’s third straight, and their eleventh straight versus the Big Green. In Harvard’s most important tilt thus far, it took care of business. Out of the gate, the Crimson shined, making their first three shots. However, they only made one field goal in the next seven minutes of play, letting Dartmouth tie the score at eight. Then Corbin Miller got hot, posting the next 11 points for the Crimson. Harvard looked very streaky offensively in the first half, but Dartmouth’s shooting woes (27 percent from the field), coupled with Harvard’s stout D, gave the visitors a seven-point lead at halftime.
Harvard traded blows with Dartmouth in the second half, with the Crimson’s lead eventually reaching eleven, three minutes into the half. However, Dartmouth stayed within reach and was able to cut the lead to five only a few minutes later. With Saunders out due to foul trouble, Kenyatta Smith, Siyani Chambers, and Corbin Miller stepped up scoring Harvard’s first 22 points of the second half (that’s every point for the first 18:17 of the half). Strong late-game performances from the charity stripe by Siyani Chambers and Wesley Saunders sealed the Crimson’s first Ivy League victory. Though at the time the game seemed well in hand, clutch free-throw shooting down the stretch will be crucial to Harvard’s success against tougher Ivy League foes.
One of the major standouts in this game was Corbin Miller. He carried the Crimson with 16 points off the bench (4-for-9 from three-point land). Miller needs to be inserted into the starting lineup going forward. The question is, in place of whom? The obvious choice seems to be swingman Agunwa Okolie. Okolie played a very solid game on Saturday, but he provides less offensive potency than Miller. Okolie is a force on the defensive side of the ball, but it’s probably not imperative for him to be on the floor for 32 minutes in a game against a team like Dartmouth, in which his assignment to shut down is a player like John Golden (who averages five points per game). That said, Okolie’s plus/minus was +11 on Saturday. In other words, in the eight minutes that Okolie sat on the bench, Dartmouth tied Harvard. Okolie is an extremely valuable asset; regardless, Miller needs to be starting in place of him or someone else. On Saturday night, Miller’s aggressiveness and his ability to create and make tough shots were reminiscent of former Crimson sharpshooter, Laurent Rivard. Opposing Ivy League defenses, beware! Miller provided a major spark for Harvard throughout the game (his plus/minus was +9), and without his offense, this game may not have gone Harvard’s way. Every time Miller headed to the bench, his team had a larger lead than when he had entered the game. He must continue to play a big role for the Crimson, and he could very well be Harvard’s X-factor down the road.
Another storyline from Saturday night was Wesley Saunders’ limited role. Saunders played only nineteen minutes after a few ticky-tack foul calls got him in trouble (after his fourth, he yelled, “I was intentionally not touching him!”). This gave the crowd a chance to see the Crimson play without their most dangerous offensive weapon. And in the 21 minutes Saunders wasn’t on the floor, Harvard performed well, outscoring Dartmouth by eight points. So while it appears that Harvard’s offense can still succeed without its star, the Crimson will need Saunders on top of his game to beat better teams. Even playing only half of his usual minutes, Saunders still managed to pitch in 10 points, five rebounds, and four assists, though his four turnovers (along with Chambers’ six giveaways) were concerning. The saying “next man up” clearly applied in this game as three other players joined Saunders to score in double digits: Chambers (10), Smith (11, all in the second half), and Miller (16).
Every Ivy League game is crucial, so coming away with a victory is a big plus for the Crimson. Dartmouth will get a second chance against their travel partner on Jan. 24 at home. Until then, the Crimson have two tough road tests coming up – something they need to get used to, as they play six of their next seven games away from Lavietes Pavilion. They play against Boston College on Wednesday, Bryant the following Tuesday. The “14-Game Tournament” is underway for the Crimson, and they started it off the only way they seem to know how (under Tommy Amaker, they’re 8-0 against Dartmouth in opening games): with a hard-fought win.