AMHERST, Mass. -- The Harvard men’s basketball team, coming off its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1946, was dealt a serious blow before the season even started when a pair of would-be seniors, forward Kyle Casey and point guard Brandyn Curry, left the school in the wake of a cheating scandal.
That left the keys to the Crimson offense to freshman Siyani Chambers, and while there surely will be some growing pains, Chambers impressed with his poise in Harvard’s near-upset of UMass, 67-64, Tuesday morning at the Mullins Center.
The Minutemen like to press on defense as much as any team in the country, normally a recipe for disaster with such an inexperienced point guard, but Chambers more than held his own, committing just one turnover, to go with seven assists and 14 points, while playing all 40 minutes.
“For him to play as well as he did the whole game and go against an outstanding guard and the kind of pressure that UMass brings to have just one turnover, I thought that was a magnificent performance,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said, referencing Chambers.
“In his first road game as a college player, to play the way he did with his energy and his spirit, I think he’s shown he’s going to be an outstanding player. It’s just too bad we couldn’t cap it off with a victory to make it that much sweeter for him.
“We knew for us to have a chance against their pressure and how they would normally play, we knew how critical our ball-handling would be. Siyani and Wesley [Saunders] were going to do the bulk of the ball-handling and I thought they did as well as you could possibly ask.”
UMass guard Chaz Williams said of Chambers: “He played really good, he was solid. The kid has a lot of heart.”
Although Amaker cited UMass’ 29 points off turnovers as the difference in the game, particularly two critical miscues in the last minute and a half, UMass coach Derek Kellogg thought the Crimson did a good job dealing with the Minutemen’s pressure and backed off somewhat in the second half.
“We talked a lot about maintaining composure,” Amaker said. “The keys for us were concentration, composure and confidence coming in here. I thought we did that as best as we possibly could. That’s what makes it tough, when you do those things and come up on the short end.”
LALANNE BACK IN THE LANE: UMass got a significant boost with the return of sophomore forward/center Cady Lalanne, who was limited to just 14 games last season because of a foot injury. Lalanne’s presence was felt from the get-go, as he was active on the boards (eight of his 13 rebounds came in his first half) and under the hoop (four blocks).
Lalanne slowed down some in the second half, but showed enough to get his coach excited and not worry about easing him back.
“He’ll play as many minutes as he can,” Kellogg said. “If he’s still playing hard and competing, I think he gives us a weapon that you just saw a little bit of. I think he’s got a chance to be a really, really good player. If you see him get in little bit better shape, I think he’s going to become a big-time player.
WILD START TO THE SEASON: The Minutemen as a team certainly aren’t easing in. After a 10 a.m. start Tuesday, the team was scheduled to catch a 2:30 p.m. bus for a 5:10 flight for the Puerto Rico Tip-Off tournament. UMass opens against Providence on Thursday night.
Kellogg said he doesn’t mind the whirlwind start.
“I’m not one for sitting around much, so I think it’s pretty good for the kids. There’s no more easing into the season. Everybody’s playing, teams are ready to play. With the summer and the longer preseason, I think you see teams that are a little further along. Harvard looked like they were in midseason form. I thought they played really well.”