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After defeating local rivals Northeastern, 80-56 on Nov. 14, Harvard men’s basketball was off to a 3-0 start to the season for the first time since 2013. The Crimson led by a margin of as much as 37 points en route to the victory, with four players hitting double-digit point tallies. Since then, Harvard overcame the University of Massachusetts 78-75 in overtime before suffering its first loss of the season to Boston College on Saturday.
Harvard has been potent offensively this season and is averaging 82 points per game. The Crimson beat UMass Boston 78-50 in its home opener, before dispatching Rice 89-76 in Houston, Texas ahead of its matchup with the Huskies.
In last season’s opening game, Harvard grinded out a dramatic 70-69 victory over Northeastern on the road. The repeat of that tight contest many may have been expecting did not end up being much of a contest at all. The Crimson roared out to a 33-14 lead 14 minutes into the first-half and never looked back.
Among the Northeastern squad was former Harvard captain Luka Sakota, who moved to Northeastern as a graduate transfer at the end of last season after four years with the Crimson. Sophomore guard Chandler Piggé spoke about playing against his former teammate and captain.
“He let me and other freshmen know, coming in, what the culture was like here. Now we're trying to continue the legacy that he and so many others left,” said Piggé regarding Sakota’s impact on the team. “At the same time, we're competitors, so we're going out there trying to win, trying to just make it hard for him,” added Piggé.
Harvard certainly succeeded in making life difficult for Sakota, limiting the guard to 0-7 from the field and just two points, coming from a pair of free throws.
The Crimson were led offensively by first-year guard Malik Mack, who scored an efficient 22 points in just 23 minutes by shooting 9-of-11 from the field, including 4-of-5 from three-point range. Malik’s 22-point game was his second game with over 20 points in the past week, after scoring 20 against Rice in the Crimson’s 89-76 win last Friday and earning Ivy League Rookie of the Week honors.
“Malik is an amazing point guard,” said Piggé. “It's amazing watching him come in as a freshman with such confidence, being able to score the ball at will, but also being a point guard at heart he just loves to get others involved, always making sure we get guys in the right spot,” added Piggé.
When asked about how he exudes such confidence on the court in just his third collegiate game, Malik reflected on his experience growing up.
“Just coming from the DMV area, we got a lot of good basketball players,” said Malik. “I played with a lot of good basketball players, and played against a lot of great basketball players. If you don't have confidence, you’re gonna be the odd man out, so it really just comes from the DMV, how I grew up. You gotta have confidence in everything you do.” he added.
In addition to Malik, Piggé, sophomore forward Chisom Okpara, and junior guard Louis Lesmond also scored in double figures against the Huskies. Lesmond is returning to play after being kept off the court with an injury last year. A sharp shooter, Lesmond contributes to Harvard’s ability to score quickly on the break, hitting three-pointers at will. The Crimson recorded 14 fast breaks in comparison to Northeastern’s zero, a testament to its ability to play quickly as a team, but also slow down the game a bit when necessary.
Defensively, the Crimson were able to stifle Northeastern as well. Senior forward Justice Ajogbor exerted his presence around the rim and blocked four Northeastern shots. The Huskies were limited to just 37.0% from the field compared to Harvard’s 50% and were outrebounded by the Crimson, 44-28.
When asked about Harvard's 3-0 start, Piggé emphasized the team’s desire for more.
“It feels great, it honestly really does,” said Piggé. "I think there's a mentality on our team, though, that we're not satisfied. We're happy for the way that we started and now we just want to keep building.”
The Crimson will now continue that quest away from home as it heads to the Big Apple to face Colgate on Wednesday, Nov. 22, and Indiana University on Sunday, November 26th. The games will be streamed on ESPN+.
— Staff writer Alexander K. Bell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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