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Harvard 73, Holy Cross 64

Crimson are given a boost

Saunders leads them to victory

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / November 16, 2011

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WORCESTER - Wesley Saunders’s timing could not have been much better as he played a key role in Harvard’s 73-64 win over Holy Cross last night.

Saunders and Corbin Miller, both freshmen, replaced Harvard’s starting guards with 11:57 remaining. Miller soon returned to the bench, but Saunders remained on the court for the duration, keying a 21-9 run over a 5:52 span as Harvard clinched the victory.

“I just wanted to go in, be ready whenever coach wanted to put me in,’’ Saunders said. “I just stayed prepared and when it was time for me to go in tried to do good things for the team.’’

Saunders scored the first 8 points of the Crimson’s second-half rally, also making an impressive diving tap pass that led to a Brandyn Curry layup, and concluding Harvard’s scoring with a dunk.

“That was all my teammates - they put me in the right position and got me the ball when I was open,’’ Saunders said. “All I had to do was put it in the basket. They did the hard part.’’

Saunders was able to establish a role for himself just as Harvard (2-0) is preparing for a visit to his hometown for a game against Loyola Marymount Saturday.

“He played well off the bench,’’ Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said of Saunders. “On the loose ball, tapping it on to a teammate was brilliant, a savvy play for a young kid. He’s strong, he’s a finisher, and he had a sensational game - maybe we don’t win without him.’’

Holy Cross (0-2) appeared to be on the verge of taking control of the game as Dave Dudzinski’s follow gave the Crusaders a 34-28 lead with 2:27 remaining in the first half.

But Harvard went on a 15-2 run over a 4:24 period spanning the halves. The Crimson scored the final 6 points of the first half, freshman Steve Moundou-Missi’s lefthanded hook off an Oliver McNally assist tying the score at 34 with five seconds remaining. Keith Wright’s follow of his miss extended the Harvard lead to 43-36 2:18 into the second half.

“I was very impressed with our team at the end of the first half and beginning of the second half,’’ Amaker said.

“We practice end of first half a lot, executing during critical stretches, and they responded. We executed the way we were supposed to.’’

Holy Cross rallied as R.J. Evans’s 3-pointer and Dudzinski’s inside move cut the deficit to 48-45 with 13:06 remaining.

Holy Cross’s inside game soon deteriorated, though, as three players fouled out. And that opened the way for the Crimson to go with a three-guard lineup, Saunders at a swing position, with Curry and McNally on the perimeter.

Phil Beans was the first Crusader to go, committing his fifth personal in a clash with Moundou-Missi with Holy Cross in possession with 11:55 left.

Saunders then scored 8 points in a 67-second span, finishing two 3-point plays - one off a steal for a 51-45 advantage with 9:54 remaining, the other in the lane at the shot-clock buzzer for a 56-50 edge with 8:08 left. Taylor Abt went out with his fifth foul on Saunders’s initial 3-point play and Dudzinski on second.

Then, McNally’s 3-point play in transition made it 59-52 with 7:10 left. Saunders grabbed a defensive rebound, leading to Laurent Rivard’s banker to extend the lead to 61-52 with 6:31 remaining. Curry’s free throw, then a Curry transition layup off Saunders’s tap pass increased the edge to 64-52 with 5:26 left.

Kyle Casey’s second-chance dunk and Curry’s 3-point play off a steal made it 69-54 with 4:02 to go.

“It’s an in-state game and, especially on the road, it’s the type of game that can flip your season,’’ McNally said.

“It’s big if you win it, because it can lead to more wins. And, if you lose it’s the opposite.’’

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