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Second-Half Surge Pushes Men's Basketball Past MIT

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New faces, same result.

Returning just under 30 percent of its minutes from a year before, the Harvard men’s basketball team (1-0) returned to business in its season opener Friday night, a 59-39 victory over MIT. The Crimson held MIT to just 11 points in the first 13 minutes of the second half, turning a six-point halftime lead into a 24-point advantage. After MIT drew within two early in the second half, Harvard scored on 10 straight possessions to push the lead to 20 and secure its 14th consecutive victory over the Engineers.

“We didn’t play perfectly offensively and obviously our shooting percentage, especially in the first half, wasn’t great, but I liked how we bounced back in the second half,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said.

After losing seven seniors to graduation and senior Siyani Chambers to an offseason injury, the focus to start the season was on the Crimson’s youth. Amaker started an all-freshman backcourt, pairing Tommy McCarthy alongside Corey Johnson. McCarthy saw the bulk of the meaningful minutes at point guard for the Crimson, leading the team in both points (12) and assists (three) in his college debut.

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The freshman’s buckets came at opportunistic moments for the Crimson. After the Crimson fell behind by four early on a three-pointer by MIT’s Tim Butala, McCarthy sprinted up the floor, drawing contact and banking in a layup for a three-point play.

In the second half, McCarthy jump-started the Crimson surge with a three-pointer that pushed the lead to five. Three possessions later, he got fouled taking another trey. After sinking all three free throws, he poked the ball away from Jomard Bradley and hit a fast-break layup that pushed the lead to 13. His assist to senior Agunwa Okolie two minutes later put the Crimson up by 17, and the lead was double digits the rest of the way.

“At halftime, I think the lead was six, we talked about those first four minutes, it can go to 12 or it can go to two,” captain Evan Cummins said. “We wanted to make sure that we really were more aggressive and that it was going up and not tighter.”

For the first 13 minutes of the game, however, the Crimson struggled to gain separation. Harvard made just nine shots in the first half against six turnovers, benefitting from five Engineer miscues and three missed free throws.

McCarthy and Johnson were not spared from the offensive slog, missing nine of 12 shots in the opening period. Junior Zena Edosomwan, who had 21 points and 12 rebounds in the team’s public scrimmage against McGill a week prior, was visibly frustrated on the interior and went without a field goal for the first 20 minutes.

Edosomwan continue to post aggressively, however, drawing fouls repeatedly throughout the first half. The Engineers had 10 fouls in the first 20 minutes and 22 for the game, with the team’s top three big men all fouling out in under 25 minutes of play. The junior finished with just six points but had six rebounds in his 17 minutes, includes two of the team’s 14 offensive rebounds.

“They were in real trouble with fouls and with Zena, the way he was posting so hard, it is almost impossible to keep him out of there without fouling,” Cummins said. “Their big guys picked up fouls and it got to the point where they couldn’t guard him because they have four fouls and he was making plays.”

On the defensive end, the team locked down from the opening tip. Wing Justin Pedley, MIT’s leading scorer and three-point shooter last year, went without a single made field goal on the night. Guard Bradley Jomard led MIT with 10 points, but just four came after halftime.

“I was pleased with our defense,” Amaker said. “I think it’s been our calling card in our program and it is part our identity. It’s important for us to feel like we have lived up to that defensively.”

—Staff writer David Freed can be reached at david.freed@thecrimson.com.

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