Harvard is a program that’s been to four straight NCAA tournaments under coach Tommy Amaker, and as such, has a winning culture that serves it well, even when losing some key players. The Crimson know how to win and even when faced with a more talented opponent on the road, they play hard.
That attitude helped keep the visitors close during a back and forth first half. Providence didn’t grab a lead until a dunk by Rodney Bullock with 9:37 to go gave the Friars a 20-18 advantage. PC stretched that to 27-18 on a Drew Edwards driving layup but Harvard crept back to 29-26. The Friars led 34-36 after a Ryan Fazekas layup but Corey Johnson sent the game to the half with a three pointer and a 34-29 PC lead.
Early struggles by Kris Dunn allowed Harvard to stay close. Dunn missed on a number of shots and was fouled – with no call – on several of them, but was just 4-17 from the field and the game was knotted at 41-all with just over 13 minutes to play. At that point, Dunn eased into the flow of the game and that spelled doom for the visitors.
After a Bullock layup put PC ahead, Dunn proceeded to score 14 of the Friars’ next 16 points over a 5-minutes stretch that all but sealed the game. Dunn started getting calls and got to the free throw line and some of the shots that had missed earlier started falling. His last basket of the run was a deep three pointer that made it 59-46 with 7:45 to play. Over the final 7 minutes, PC’s lead peaked at 15 points and Harvard never got closer than 9 points.
Dunn finished with a career-high 32 points (23 in the second half) and after his 4-17 start, hit 7 of his last 9 attempts. In addition, he had a career-high 8 steals, 7 in the first half. His last one was a beauty: Zena Edosomwan cleared a miss under the Friars’ hoop and as he turned to fire an outlet pass, Dunn stripped the ball and laid it back in.
If anything, Dunn was guilty of trying to do too much early in the game. Several times, he put nifty moves on the defender but then found himself caught with nowhere to go. He eliminated that from his game in the second half and Harvard paid a big price. The All-American also contributed 6 rebounds and 5 assists, which would have been a higher number had teammates not failed to convert several beautiful passes.
Dunn was ably assisted by Rodney Bullock, who was playing the first collegiate game of his career. Bullock scored 20 points on 8-14 shooting and also had 6 rebounds and 3 blocks. Against the bigger Harvard frontline, rebounds didn’t come as easily for Bullock as they had against Stonehill, but he remained efficient in his scoring and he was effective inside. What went unnoticed because of Dunn and Bullock’s second half effectiveness was the fact that, until 6:55 remained in the game, those two were the only players who had scored in the half for the Friars. Ben Bentil finally got on the board at that point with two free throws and Kyron Cartwright followed with a nice driving layup, but there wasn’t a lot of balance in PC’s scoring.
Meanwhile, Harvard featured a true freshman backcourt of Tommy McCarthy and Corey Johnson and both look to be capable four year players for the Crimson. McCarthy struggled against Dunn and didn’t shoot well but he can handle the ball and Johnson gave Junior Lomomba fits by hitting 5-10 threes for a team-high 17 points. In addition, Edosomwan bothered Bentil quite a bit and scored 13 points, which included a number of rim-rattling dunks and pulled down 16 rebounds.
“Harvard exposed us,” said Ed Cooley. The frontline of Edosomwan, Evan Cummings and Agunwa Okolie made life difficult inside for Bentil who airballed several attempts, and the Crimson big men were able to shake free inside for a number of uncontested layups and dunks. Bentil ended with respectable numbers, scoring 8 points, but on 3-14 shooting and 11 rebounds.
Meanwhile, Edwards, Quadree Smith and Ricky Council saw limited minutes, especially in the second half, as Cooley dramatically shortened his rotation. Fazekas did play 36 minutes and started in place of Jalen Lindsey, who sat out due to a team violation. Fazekas scored 10 points, 8 in the first half. “I was really proud of Ryan,” said Cooley. “He played hard the whole game. We just need to get him a few more open looks.”
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PC turns around quickly with a game at the Dunk against Illinois as part of the inaugural Gavitt Games.