Why Harvard basketball didn’t need Bryce Aiken to be a scorer Saturday

"That’s a big step in maturity.”

Harvard guard Noah Kirkwood stepped up in the team's win over UMass.
Harvard guard Noah Kirkwood stepped up in the team's win over UMass. –AP

In an arena filled with maroon-and-white UMass sweatshirts, Harvard reminded everyone whose home court it actually was on Saturday, defeating the Minutemen, 89-55.

The Crimson brought energy and momentum on both ends of the floor, capitalizing off of UMass’ rough-shooting night (32 percent from the field and 3-of-19 from the three) and out-rebounding the Minutemen, 40-27. On the offensive end, Harvard controlled the pace of the game for most of the night, scoring 46 points in the paint and shooting 68 percent in the second half to solidify the win. They were led by senior forward Robert Baker, who finished with a career-high 19 points and sophomore Noah Kirkwood, who also had 19 points, as well as two assists and two rebounds.

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While it was a low-scoring night from senior point guard Bryce Aiken (4 points), he served as the floor general to dictate the pace of the Crimson’s offense early on, giving pivotal reads to his teammates to put them in scoring positions. This was a role head coach Tommy Amaker felt he did well.

“A lot of the times he’s in the middle of scoring a lot of points for us, but today it was necessary to be a quarterback and to find the open people,” Amaker said. “The start we were able to have was because of his effort and his intelligence, how he played and passed and made everyone around him better. I thought that was the difference of us getting out to a really good start here at home.”

After losing to both USC and Maryland in Florida, Amaker said Aiken stepped up as the “quarterback:” someone who would create scoring opportunities and lead the team in ways beyond just baskets.

“I saw some things down in Orlando that he could do better as a point guard,” said Amaker. “And doesn’t mean we’re not asking him to shoot or score, he’s too much of a weapon for that. But there will be times when we’ll require a certain style of play from him.  To be a really good quarterback point-guard, you not only have to one have recognition, two you have to be willing and three you have to execute.”

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“I think he did all three of those, cashed in and checked those boxes here today, which we needed,” Amaker added. “That’s a mark of a really good point guard – giving the team what it needs, not exactly what you want. That’s a big step in maturity.”

Kirkwood was also praised by his team for his leadership and performance on Saturday, despite being only a sophomore.

“Kirkwood is arguably our best player, between him and Bryce [Aiken], it just depends on the night,” said junior guard Rio Haskett after the game. “He brings a poise, he’s only a sophomore but he plays ahead of his time. He’s so mature and he’s just getting better every year. He still has two more years but I can’t wait to see the finished product.”

Another notable performance of the night came from freshman forward Chris Ledlum, who finished with 12 points and eight rebounds, shooting 6-of-8 from the field. If Aiken was the leader, Ledlum was the battery that amplified the team’s energy on the court, snagging rebounds and nailing a monster dunk in the first half.

Ledlum has also been a major offensive contributor to the team this season, and with skill and control, Amaker thinks he has a bright future.

“I’ve said this about Ledlum: We have to make sure we understand the difference between determined and stubborn, aggressive and reckless,” said Amaker. “For a young player, we love what he brings and if we can really help him with recognizing the when of things. He already knows the how…I think he has that style of play where he’s going to make some creative dynamic, exciting plays. He snatches a rebound and it’s like, ‘Wow, he’s got it.’ No one is going to rip it out of his hands. He drives to the basket very strongly, that’s what we love about him.

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“He’s an electrifying, dynamic, aggressive player that as long as we can hone and guide and nurture some of that in the right direction. He’s got a chance to be a special player.”