Harvard hoops flustered at home by hungry Holy Cross

November 23, 2016 GMT

As Siyani Chambers brought the ball up, his team trailing by 19 and coming out of a timeout, the point guard passed across the court to Tommy McCarthy. But McCarthy was never looking as he continued running and the ball sailed into Harvard’s bench.

It was that type of game for the Crimson.

And it continued to be a running theme, as Harvard committed 19 turnovers and never got things moving in a stunning 63-52 loss to Holy Cross last night at Lavietes Pavilion.

The Crusaders, who had lost their first three games, came in hungry and left with their first win of the year.

“Tough night for us,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “You give a lot of credit to Holy Cross. I thought they were really tough and desperate. It certainly showed their hunger to come in here and play well, and it got away from us when they built a big lead.”

It didn’t help that freshman guards Bryce Aiken and Christian Juzang, who had been bright spots early on this season, were out with minor injuries. The two are day-to-day, according to Amaker, and their status for Saturday’s tilt at UMass is uncertain.

Without them, the Crimson (1-2) lacked the necessary personnel to break through Holy Cross’ 1-3-1 zone defense, which has flustered several offenses since the team’s improbable run to the NCAA tournament last season.

Chambers turned it over five times as he tried to lead a young Harvard offense, one that featured freshmen playing against Holy Cross’ Princeton-style system for the first time.

“They had a good defense, but we worked against it, we knew it was coming,” Chambers said. “We just didn’t execute. Offensively or defensively, we weren’t sharp enough, we weren’t executing what we wanted to run and unfortunately it cost us.”

The death blow came early in the second half when the Crusaders went on a 13-0 run that put the game out of reach. The visitors swallowed up Harvard and turned defense into instant offense and easy opportunities as a lead that was once just six at 36-30 ballooned to 19 in a matter of minutes.

Malachi Alexander stole an inbounds pass and found a wide-open Karl Charles on the break, and his 3-pointer gave Holy Cross a 49-30 lead that silenced a stunned crowd. The Crimson battled back and eventually made it an 11-point game, but never got closer.

“It got away from us there,” Amaker said of the run. “They made 3’s and we self-destructed a little bit.

“Their zone was very active. They’re pretty athletic in how they jumped the passing lanes and I thought we were tentative at times.”

For the second straight game, Amaker started three freshmen and curiously left Zena Edosomwan, an All-Ivy League second-team performer last year, on the bench again and then played him just seven minutes. And without his bigs performing well, the Crusaders pierced through the Harvard paint for 24 second-chance points, 18 of which came in the first half as they turned a late deficit into an eight-point intermission lead, one they’d never look back on.

Amaker said it was a “tough night” for Edosomwan given Holy Cross’ style of play, but noted he needs more from his veterans, and especially Edosomwan, in order to turn around a difficult start to what was hoped to be a promising season.

“He hasn’t performed well this season,” Amaker said of Edosomwan. “We need more from him, we need more from everyone, but he has not been a factor for us this year.”

Amaker was hopeful that he could use this early-season loss as a teaching tool.

“That’s the goal right now that we find ourselves in this position,” Amaker said. “You’d like to see if you can teach from playing better and winning, but this is where we are and we’re very hopeful we can utilize it to advance our growth and development for this year.”