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Although Harvard found themselves up five at halftime and playing well despite the absence of leading scorer and Lou Henson Preseason All-American, Wesley Saunders, the Crimson’s nine-game win streak ended Wednesday in a hard fought 61-56 loss to the Connecticut Huskies.

Harvard, which led by as many as seven in the first half, converted a number of big plays to stay within reach, but ultimately came up short.

With the win Wednesday night, UConn moves to 12-3 on the year.

In spite of the heartbreaking loss, Harvard (13-2) is an excellent basketball team, well coached and executes.

With Ivy League play slated to start this weekend, below are a few observations on the Crimson.

Credit: Kelley L Cox/Harvard Athletic Communications

Siyani Chambers runs the show for the Crimson
Credit: Kelley L Cox/Harvard Athletic Communications

Multiple Scoring Threats

With Saunders hampered by injury, Harvard managed a balanced attack and produced offensively against UConn.

6-foot sophomore guard and floor general, Siyani Chambers finished with a game-high 21 points including 5-of-7 from three to keep the Crimson highly competitive throughout.

Chambers was terrific Wednesday, and came up huge on several clutch possessions.

With the shot clock expiring, the Minnesota native knocked down his third three to put Harvard up 34-31 in the second half.

Then, with the Huskies in front 37-34 and teetering on their second run of the half, Chambers again stepped up and nailed his fourth three-ball to knot things at 37-all.

In addition, 6-foot-5 senior guard, Laurent Rivard added 13 points, 4 assists and 4 steals.  Kyle Casey, 6-foot-7 senior forward narrowly missed a double-double with 10 points and 9 rebounds.

And, 6-foot-1 senior guard, Brandyn Curry, who started in replace of injured Saunders, chipped in 7 points and 6 assists.

Collectively, Harvard has three players averaging better than 11 points-per-game and four others averaging more than 6 points-per-game.

On the season, the Crimson are 46 percent (383-of-826) and 37 percent (77-of-211) from the field and beyond the arc, respectively.

Great Pace-of-Play

When coaches comment on pace-of-play, they not only consider tempo, but also how a respective team’s tempo matches given personnel, execution-style and decision-making.

Harvard’s pace is excellent.

Consider a few things.

On Wednesday, Harvard matched UConn’s point production in transition.  Pretty good considering the Huskies are traditionally one of the more up-tempo teams in the country and have a tendency to speed up opponents.

According to Synergy Sports, the Crimson pulled down 5 offensive rebounds that resulted in what’s referred to as a “reset” or, in other words, an offensive rebound, which is kicked out, allowing an offense to reset their half court set and execute for a higher percentage shot.

A post presence, good ball reversal, and smart gap and kick play resulted in 28 scoring opportunities for Harvard shooters spotting-up opposed to manufacturing tough shots off the move or dribble. UConn marked just 10 spot-up jump-shot opportunities over 40 minutes.

In total, Harvard registered 12 assists on 20 baskets – good regardless of your philosophy.

Finally, the Crimson took seven shots in seven different possession with less than four seconds remaining on the shot clock.

This isn’t out of the ordinary if a team is grossly outmatched; however, Harvard was in a position to win the game until the very end.

A more accurate explanation – Amaker’s team does a great job maximizing time-of-possession, each offensive read and threat while spacing the floor, utilizing a post presence and moving the basketball side-to-side with reasonable gap and kick play.

Naturally, this takes time off the clock and most of Harvard’s late shot clock heaves were open shots which resulted in scores.

Credit: Gil Talbot

Tommy Amaker guides a Harvard team in search of a third straight Ivy League Title. Credit: Gil Talbot

Tommy Amaker 

Coach Amaker’s success has been well documented.  He’s guiding a team in search of a third straight Ivy League title.

I’ve had the opportunity to observe several practices.

Amaker’s practices run on an intense and hybrid approach conducive to constant communication (I mean a lot!), skill-breakdown segments; where Tommy can be seen moving between groups coaching his players to stretch their skill-development beyond what’s comfortable while chattering with much enthusiasm that a given skill-set is only as effective as a cohesive and fluid team attack.

Consequently, every detail and missed read is coached, assistants are engaged and the team committed to getting it right.

Coach Amaker’s approach reflects that of my former college coach and boss, Lafayette College head coach, Fran O’Hanlon, who runs a great practice and unfortunately has battled injuries to several key players this season.

Lafayette has appeared in three of the last four Patriot League tournament championship games.

Yes, Harvard’s nine-game win streak was snapped Wednesday in Storrs, but the Crimson are more than capable and remain poised to be a hard out come mid-march.

Harvard hosts a much improved Dartmouth squad Saturday to open up Ivy League play.  Tip-off is set for 2pm.

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