Three Thoughts: Harvard 70, Boston University 56

Though Boston University entered Lavietes Pavilion with a disappointing 2-5 record, the Terriers played Harvard even for nearly 30 minutes on Monday. Behind 13 points from Blaise Mbargorba and a balanced scoring effort, BU gave the hosts a scare, but the Crimson finally pulled away for a 70-56 victory on just 57 possessions, improving to 7-1. Three thoughts from the game (written during commercials of Brown’s upset over Providence):

1. The Terriers took Harvard out of its offense (for a while). Harvard entered Monday’s game taking nearly half its shots at the rim — making 61% of those attempts — while BU lacks a true shot-blocker and had allowed opponents to shoot 68% at the basket. So it was no surprise that the visitors packed in their defense, playing a tight zone and daring the Crimson to win the game from outside. Multiple Terriers collapsed on Saunders on every touch inside the arc, denying driving lanes and making entry passes to Harvard’s post players difficult.

“They want to throw it in [the post] a ton,” BU coach Joe Jones said. “Their depth is outrageous up front, so they’re able to use so many guys and wear you down. We just wanted to take that part of their game away as much as we could, and force them to do some things they didn’t want to do.”

In the first half, BU’s tactics worked well: After high-low action led to a few easy points inside, the Crimson’s offense turned into a three-point shooting contest, as 15 of their 25 first-half attempts were from distance. Corbin Miller made three NBA-range treys, but he finished the game just 3-for-13 beyond the arc, and Harvard as a whole shot 31% from three. The Crimson got back to their roots in the second half, however, working their way inside and making 16 of 17 free throws in the period. “Defensively, we got some stops, which allowed us to get out and sometimes beat the zone down,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said.

2. Boston U. matched up well with Harvard in other ways. The Terriers’ offense usually features four perimeter scorers, which poses problems for the Crimson’s standard two-big lineup; after Nathan Dieudonne and Eric Fanning took advantage of mismatches to score in the first half, the hosts switched to a four-guard alignment for the majority of the game. Harvard struggled with those lineups against Holy Cross earlier this season, but they were +14 when playing small on Monday, the entire margin of victory. “They’re a dangerous three-point shooting team, so we thought it’d be beneficial for us to chase them a little bit better with a smaller lineup,” Amaker said.

3. Harvard was simply better down the stretch. With less than 11 minutes remaining and the game tied, BU’s defense stymied the Crimson for 34 seconds, leaving the ball in Saunders’ hands beyond the arc as the shot clock ticked down. John Papale’s hand was at his eyeballs, but Saunders had no choice but to launch a high-arcing prayer — which dropped cleanly through the net. The Terriers threw away a baseline inbounds pass shortly after, and they went without a field goal for seven minutes as Harvard pulled away; Siyani Chambers eventually shut the door with a speedy and-one drive and a step-back jumper.

“Our issues are that we don’t execute at a high enough level, and we don’t always play with enough toughness to win games like this. We have to change that,” Jones said. “We’ve got a long way to go before we become the team we’re capable of becoming.”

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