Harvard men’s basketball splits Bay State back-to-back

Malik Mack, the reigning Ivy League Rookie of the Week and the conference’s leading scorer, put up a career-high 32 points as Harvard men’s basketball came back late at Massachusetts and outlasted the Minutemen for a 76-71 overtime win Friday evening.

With the hard-fought victory, Harvard started the year 4-0, the first time the team swept its opening quartet of games since the 2013-14 season. The streak ended early Saturday night as the Crimson fell to Boston College, 73-64.

Friday evening’s contest was a close affair through most of the first half with six lead changes and a tie.

UMass (2-1) held a slim 25-23 advantage at the three-minute mark before a 10-3 run over the next two minutes put the hosts up by nine.  The teams traded baskets over the last minute of play, allowing the Minutemen to enter the locker room up 37-28.

Over the first 20 minutes, Mack struggled from the field, missing his first five attempts and finishing with three baskets in ten shots. However, he went 5-for-6 from the free throw line and ended the half with a game-high 12 points.

As a team, the Crimson shot 34% (10-for-29) from the field, including 22% (2-for-9) from three. The Minutemen made 44% (14-for-32), going 5-for-14 (36%) from deep.

Harvard slowly chipped away at the lead, eventually tying it up at 57 with six minutes left in regulation.

The Minutemen, which had difficulties at the three-point and free throw lines throughout the second half, recaptured the lead four more times. But the Crimson kept pace.

With the score knotted at 68 and 30 seconds left in the half, UMass’ Matt Cross grabbed an offensive rebound off a missed three and was fouled. Following two made free throws, Harvard went to Mack, who drove the right baseline, went under a leaping Cross and calmly hit the tying floater.

The Minutemen had two chances on its last possession but missed a driving layup and three-pointer at the buzzer.

In the extra session, Cross made one of two free throws to put UMass up 71-70. Triples by Mack and junior Louis Lesmond made it a five-point lead for Harvard, 76-71, its biggest of the night.

After UMass’ Jaylen Curry drove the lane and made it 78-75 with 30 seconds on the clock, Mack missed the front end of a one-and-one, and the Minutemen came down with the rebound.

Curry attempted a last-second triple, but Lesmond was in his face and the shot was no good.

On the evening, Harvard shot 43% (16-for-37) from two, 46% (11-for-24) from three and 13-for-18 (72%) at the line. UMass went 44% (22-for-50) from inside, but only hit 25% (7-for-28) from downtown and 40% (10-for-25) from the charity stripe.

Asked what the difference was in his post-game press conference, UMass coach Frank Martin said Harvard’s length at the two and three guard spots (6’5″ Chandler Pigge and 6’6″ Lesmond), the Crimson’s physicality and Mack’s ability to make shots.

Mack’s finished the night shooting 5-for-13 from two, 5-for-10 from three and 7-for-9 from the charity stripe, while adding six assists.  By the end of the evening, the rookie from Maryland led the Ancient Eight in both scoring and assists with 21.8 and 4.8 a game, respectively.

“He’s an outstanding young player. I’m really pleased that he didn’t just go into a downward spiral because it wasn’t going his way early,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker told Ivy Hoops Online immediately after the game. “Very impressed with his composure, overall.”

While Mack was sensational, the win was a team effort.

Pigge finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds, his first-ever double-double, and Lesmond totaled 14 points with a 4-for-7 effort from beyond the arc.

“Chandler’s been our go-to guy,” said Amaker. “Maybe our most valuable player in all different ways.”

Asked if Lesmond, who was averaging 3.0 made three-pointers a night, is overcoming the injury-induced struggles of his first two seasons, the coach was positive about the Parisian sharpshooter. “You know what, he is. He had some open shots and knocked them down, which we expect him to do, and they were very timely.”

There was also strong production from forward Chisom Okpara and sixth man Thomas Batties II.

Chisolm had a stat-stuffing evening with eight points, seven rebounds and five assists, which was even more impressive since he played the last 15 minutes after aggravating a left shoulder injury.  Meanwhile, Batties added seven points and played strong defense as he had to spell starting forward Justice Ajogbor, who was limited to 18 minutes due to foul trouble.

“It was a test for us to come back, claw our way back against an outstanding team,” said Amaker. “I’m really, really proud of our guys for how we hung in there.”

With the draining contest in the rearview mirror, the Crimson didn’t have much time to recover, as they traveled to Chestnut Hill for a Saturday 5 p.m. battle against undefeated Boston College.

“It was crazy to try to make it work,” Amaker told IHO. “But we decided, regardless (of the quick turnaround time), we’re going to play and have that game.”

After some early runs from both teams on Saturday night, a Lesmond three- pointer with 55 seconds left in the half gave Harvard a 35-33 lead over Boston College (4-0) at intermission.

The Crimson quickly stretched the lead to ten, 43-33, before the Eagles made its own 13-0 run to take a three-point advantage with 15 minutes remaining in regulation.

The game remained close over the next 10 minutes, with Boston College holding a one-point lead, following a Lesmond jumper. After a 7-0 run from the Eagles made it 69-61 with just over two minutes to go, the Crimson couldn’t get any closer than five points.

Harvard had another solid night from three and the free throw line, shooting 36% (8-for-22) and 89% (8-for-9), respectively, but could only make 41% (16-for-39) from inside the arc.

The Crimson limited BC to 25% (6-for-24) from three, but the Eagles were able to control the interior, leading to 45% shooting from two, 18 more rebounds (+16%), 10 more points in the paint and eight more second chance points.

Okpara had another well-rounded game with 20 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two blocks, while Mack added 18 points, six assists and five rebounds in the team’s first defeat of the year.

Harvard will get a few days off before traveling to Colgate on Wednesday and Indiana next Sunday.