Every missed free throw seemed like it played its own little note.
When Steve Moundou-Missi dinged the first of two, it was like soft triangle tap. When he missed two more, they grew louder, more noticeable. Eventually, Kenyatta Smith and Christian Webster joined in what clearly had become an iron symphony.
It was an anomaly that Harvard coach Tommy Amaker could only describe as “alarming.”
For most of the six seasons under Amaker, the Crimson have been notoriously effective from the line. The didn’t just lead the Ivy League in free throw shooting last season (74.7 percent), but they did so the year before that (80.8) and the year before that (76.5).
So far this young season they were shooting 75.3 percent. So to see so many bounce off the rim, when they needed to get in a rhythm against a strong Vermont team, was puzzling.
Webster, for instance, was one of the team’s better foul shooters. He was 0 for 4 from the line in the first half.
Eight such first-half misses were part of the reason Harvard (2-3) found itself in a 14-point deficit at halftime in what ended up an 85-78 loss to Vermont (4-1) at Lavietes Pavilion. Everything the Crimson did right in the second half – knocking down threes (9 of 16 on the night) and wiping the glass clean (27 rebounds to Vermont’s 23) – was drowned out by the sound of the clangs from the charity stripe.
“We usually cash in on those,” said Wesley Saunders, who scored a team-high 21 points. “It was just a tough night at the line.”
It wasn’t just the foul shooting, though.
Vermont shot 59.6 percent from the floor. Sandro Carissimo drilled 4 of 5 3-pointers and finished with a game-high 25 points. Clancy Rugg came off the bench and had 16.
The Crimson hadn’t had a team ring up that many points on them in quite a while. The Crimson had the Ivy’s top defense a year ago, and the No. 2 defense in the league the season before that.
But the Catamounts used the screen-and-roll to pick on a Harvard defense still trying to find itself. For only the second time in 32 games, the Crimson lost at Lavietes, in front of a crowd that was thinner than usual because of the rare midweek date.
“That’s been one of the staples of our program is how we guard and sit down and make it tough for people, especially here,” Amaker said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, we’ve got to find ourselves now. That’s been one of the calling cards of our program and our team, to be able to defend, and certainly we didn’t do as well as we needed to tonight.”
Vermont finished with 34 points in the paint. The most difficult part, though, was while the Crimson passed on freebies in the first half, Vermont was shooting 73.1 percent from the floor, taking advantage of easy opportunities.
“They shot the ball well, obviously,” Amaker said. “But they shot a lot of layups.”
The closest the Crimson could close it to was 59-57 with 11:06 left, when Webster (7 points) knocked down one of his two 3-pointers.
“With that kind of hole and a team that was playing as well as they were playing, it made it very difficult,” Amaker said. “I thought they played well for 40 minutes and I thought we played well, I’d give us maybe 22 minutes.”
Above all else, the Catamounts cashed in where the Crimson didn’t. They went 21 of 26 from the stripe.
“When you’re struggling scoring,” Amaker said, “you want to get to the foul line and kind of stop some things, and it didn’t work for us tonight.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.