Crimson cruise in opener
As far as openers go, the Harvard men’s basketball team wasn’t expecting much in the way of heavy lifting last night against MIT. But midway through the first half at Lavietes Pavilion, the Crimson found themselves in an honest-to-goodness tussle against the Division 3 Engineers.
MIT, which finished 20-9 last season and earned its third straight trip to the NCAA Tournament, got within 13-12 on Paul Dawson’s 3-pointer.
But Harvard, which returned all five starters from last year’s 23-7 squad, turned up the defensive pressure, stoking a 24-10 run over the final 11:05 of the half. It enabled the Crimson to build a 37-22 lead that was never threatened in a 76-49 romp before 2,195.
“We have a great deal of respect for MIT, that’s the reason why we think it’s a neat game for us to continue to play,’’ said Harvard coach Tommy Amaker, whose team had four double-figure scorers, forced 15 turnovers, and blocked eight shots.
Laurent Rivard, a 6-foot-5-inch sophomore guard from Quebec, came off the bench to lead the Crimson with 16 points. He scored 11 points in a row in the second half to help Harvard lead by as many as 31, splashing his fourth of six 3-point attempts to make it 69-38 with 5:48 to go.
“When you give up wide-open jump shots to a player like Rivard - and he did it to us last year - he’s a guy you just can’t leave open,’’ said MIT coach Larry Anderson, whose team got 16 points from Will Tashman. “I think he’s one of the best shooters, not just in the Ivy League, but one of the best shooters in the country.
“When you have five guys on the court playing the way they do, you’re trying to take one thing away, and there’s another strength on the other side. They have no weaknesses. I’m just glad we got first crack at ’em because I wouldn’t want to play them in February when they’re going to be a Top 25 team.’’
Harvard captains Keith Wright and Oliver McNally chipped in 13 and 12 points, respectively, combining for 16 points in the decisive run before intermission. Kyle Casey had 11 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 blocked shots.
With 1:13 to go, and Harvard’s 18th consecutive home win well in hand, Amaker emptied his bench. It prompted the MIT students to begin chanting, “Safety school! Safety school!’’ It brought a swift retort from the Harvard student section, “Thanks for breakfast! Thanks for breakfast!’’
But no one on Harvard’s basketball team viewed the Engineers as a crumpet.
“We think they’re a quality ball club, and it’s been a neat game for the Cambridge and Boston area,’’ said Amaker, who is now 3-0 vs. MIT. “It’s been fun for us and I know we’ve won, but it’s been a positive and we have a great deal of respect for their program.’’