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Harvard 78, Cornell 57

Crimson take fast lane to win over Big Red

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / January 30, 2011

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Any time a team captain contributes 21 points and 11 rebounds to a 21-point victory, he should expect praise. But after Keith Wright helped Harvard bury Cornell, 78-57, last night, he had to answer to coach Tommy Amaker.

“I thought those numbers should have been a lot better,’’ Amaker said. “You can look at a number of plays where he didn’t finish around the rim. But he still had a terrific game, a double-double. He certainly can do better and he’ll be the first to tell you that. Outstanding numbers, but the goal is be efficient as possible. This was a game where his numbers should have been even better, given the opportunities he had.’’

It was Wright’s best offensive output since early in the season. And the junior forward’s effectiveness on the low post helped open up Harvard’s perimeter game as the Crimson (15-3, 4-0 Ivy League) won their 13th successive game at home.

“I think he’s definitely right, I should have had better numbers,’’ Wright said of Amaker. “But overall, I picked it up in the second half. He told me what to do in the second half and I went and did it. I still think there’s always room for improvement. In the first half I was sluggish and as a team we missed some opportunities to kind of expand on the lead and grow as a team. So, there’s never satisfaction. There’s always room for improvement.’’

Harvard got off to a fast start, going on a 13-0 run early and closing the half with an 11-4 run. Cornell (4-14, 0-4) pulled within 5 points early in the second half, but Harvard responded with a 9-0 spurt and stretched its advantage to as many as 24.

“We’ve shown so far we can respond when we’re down in a number of situations, fight back and get ourselves back into the ballgame,’’ Amaker said. “But we haven’t been as good with a 6-7-8-point margin and we have a chance to push it over the top into double digits. We’ve really worked on that and talked about that. I was pleased when we had a chance to take it over 10-12 and be more efficient on the offensive end.’’

Wright led the way as Harvard went on an 8-0 run over a 1:54 span late in the first half. He drove to score, rebounded his own miss and assisted on a Christian Webster 3-pointer, hit a free throw, and scored on a follow for a 38-27 edge with 1:24 to go. Laurent Rivard gave Harvard a 41-31 halftime lead with a 3-pointer just before the buzzer.

Errick Peck’s 3-point play off a follow pulled the Big Red within 43-38, but Wright then sparked a 9-point Harvard run over 1:44. Wright scored twice in a 21-second span, then Kyle Casey made a baseline move, and Rivard sank a 3-pointer for a 52-38 advantage with 16:54 remaining.

Harvard has a realistic goal of winning the Ivy League this season, while defending champion Cornell is sinking fast.

“They smacked us last year and we came in here with a little extra juice, a little extra fire,’’ Wright said. “And I think we executed really well.’’

Wright scored a career-high 24 points against Bryant in the fourth game of the season but had not reached 20 points since.

As for the fast start, Wright said, “Being mentally, physically ready. Coach always says clear minds and fresh legs. We came out and we were ready to go. We executed at the beginning of the game and that leads to success.

“It’s nice to have a target on your back. That’s what we all came to Harvard to do, try and get a banner up here in the men’s basketball. That’s one of our goals as a team. Teams are definitely giving us their best shot. Obviously, it’s one day at a time, but we’ve all been working real hard, we’re growing as a team. That’s something we work real hard to do.’’

Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at f_dellapa@globe.com.