With Bryce Aiken watching from the sideline in a walking boot, Harvard withstood a late push from Dartmouth to take its Ivy opener, 67-62, at home.
The first half belonged to senior center Chris Lewis, who had 11 points and was perfect from the floor, while his freshman frontcourt partner Chris Ledlum led the Crimson (12-4, 1-0 Ivy) in the second half with 11 of his own. It was a game of highs and lows for Tommy Amaker’s squad, who withstood Dartmouth’s hot start and good shooting from behind the arc (41%) in the first half, but almost squandered a 12-point lead in the final minutes.
When Harvard went on a 14-0 run midway through the game, led by the scoring of Ledlum and anchored on defense by Lewis and Justin Bassey, it was easy to picture this team contending in this year’s Cambridge edition of the Ivy Tournament. When Harvard stagnated on offense, turned the ball over and missed three of four crucial free throws to let Dartmouth (7-9, 0-1) back into the game in the final minutes, it was hard not to notice the absence of Aiken’s shot creation, steady ballhandling and iron nerves.
Dartmouth benefited from a balanced attack, with five players scoring nine or more points, but ultimately could not steal back-to-back Ivy openers from the Crimson. Aaryn Rai finished with 13 points, albeit inefficiently, and Ian Sistare’s accuracy from distance was crucial in building Dartmouth’s first half lead. Both squads had highlight-reel moments (an Ian Carter poster on Ledlum, a Lewis steal and breakaway slam), and the Big Green proved that next week’s matchup in Hanover may very well end differently.
Adjusting to reality
Before this season, visions of a Harvard team led by the one-two punch of Bryce Aiken and Seth Towns gave rise to lofty expectations and had some already looking toward March. With Towns’s Harvard career finished and Aiken unavailable for the beginning of conference play, some level of disappointment is appropriate. Nonetheless, dwelling on what might have been takes away from the fact that this Crimson team just won its seventh game in a row and had finished its best nonconference season in years.
Production from Lewis is not a luxury. Even though the big man has improved the consistency of his scoring (and the Harvard guards have improved at delivering him the ball), he still faded in the second half against strong defense from Chris Knight. To win against tough teams like Yale, Lewis will have to be able to continue asserting his will in the second half while facing increased defensive attention.
Someone has to shoot
Even with a dominant Lewis, Harvard as currently constructed still has a limited ceiling on offense. Chris Ledlum’s four Ivy League Rookie of the Week awards speak not only to his evident talent but to the fact that he has been thrust into a primary role. Behind him is a deep but inconsistent bench: Noah Kirkwood, Robert Baker, Christian Juzang and others have all shined at different times this season but continue to disappear for long stretches. In today’s game, this manifested itself in two consecutive shot-clock turnovers as Dartmouth made up lost ground on the other end. For Harvard to raise its ceiling, one or more players will have to make a leap by creating shots without losing too much efficiency or turning the ball over. Of course, there is an another, obvious solution for boosting the Crimson offense. Unfortunately for Harvard, he’s still in a boot.