Harvard-Holy Cross Preview
Harvard responded to the program's first preseason ranking with an impressive win despite a sluggish start.
The 25th-ranked Crimson will look to take care of another in-state school Sunday when they meet Holy Cross in Boston.
The four-time defending Ivy League champions opened with a 73-52 home win over MIT on Friday for their 32nd home non-conference win in 33 tries. Harvard trailed midway through the first half but outscored Division III's 16th-ranked team 52-30 over the final 29:10, improving to 24-6 against fellow Massachusetts schools in its eighth season under coach Tommy Amaker.
"Obviously, we had some first-game jitters. That's to be expected," said Wesley Saunders, who scored 15 points. "They forced us into a good game. So it was a good way to start off the season."
Saunders, Harvard's top scorer in 2013-14 with 14.2 points per game, was 4 of 5 from the field and added nine rebounds and six assists.
One of the biggest questions facing the Crimson was how they would replace sharpshooter Laurent Rivard, who set the all-time school record with 287 3-pointers and ranked third in the conference last season with a 43.0 percentage from deep. Siyani Chambers may be up to the task after going 4 of 4 from beyond the arc against the Engineers.
Harvard shot 55.8 percent and was 18 of 22 from the free throw line while holding MIT to 39.1 percent field-goal shooting.
The Crimson struggled in some areas, however, committing 15 turnovers after being charged with that many four times in 32 games in 2013-14. They also surrendered 10 offensive rebounds.
"That's not good for us with some of the opponents we're going to play," Amaker said.
Amaker started a lineup consisting exclusively of players 6-foot-7 or shorter. Six-foot-eight Agunwa Okolie was expected to start but sat out due to injury and there was no word on his status for Sunday.
Harvard is looking to improve upon its longest winning streak in the series with a seventh straight victory and hasn't lost to the Crusaders since an 80-69 road defeat on Nov. 20, 2007. It has shot 50.0 percent or better four times during its six-game series winning streak and claimed an 82-72 win last season at the TD Garden.
The Crimson outrebounded Holy Cross 44-27 and were led by 20 points from Jonah Travis, who scored eight against MIT. Saunders scored 18.
Holy Cross, which has dropped four of its last five openers, was picked to finish third in the Patriot League for a second straight year. All starters return from last year's 20-14 squad except for center Dave Dudzinski, who led the Crusaders with 15.1 points and 7.4 rebounds per game and scored 25 against Harvard.
Senior forward Malcolm Miller is the leading returning scorer with 11.0 points per game in 2013-14.
"Harvard has an outstanding team so this will be an extremely tough game, but we think we will be up the challenge," coach Milan Brown said.
Holy Cross leads the all-time series 40-26.