If Kyle Casey wants to find out how engaged Siyani Chambers is at a given point in a game, he checks the decibel level.
“When he gets in his moods, you always hear him talk, you always hear him vocal and things like that,” Casey said.
With the Crimson trailing Vermont, 48-45, midway through the second half Saturday, their 15-point first-half lead long gone, Casey knew the sophomore point guard was locked in.
First, Chambers motored around the 3-point line until he found Jonah Travis in the paint for an easy layup.
Then, after Harvard got a stop on the other end, Chambers fired off a skip pass and watched the ball work its way back to him on the wing for a wide-open 3-pointer.
Then, after Travis split a pair of free throws, Chambers turned a missed jumper by Vermont guard Candon Rusin into a fast break, hitting the defender in his way with two quick in-and-out dribbles and lofting a floater.
The basket gave the Crimson (10-1) a 53-48 lead and put Harvard in firm control of a game that could have easily gotten away from them.
Spending all but one minute of the game on the floor, Chambers finished with a career-high 27 points on 9-of-10 shooting and pushed the Crimson to their sixth straight win, 74-68, at Lavietes Pavilion.
“When he’s ready to attack and he decides to take over for a few possessions or a half or anything like he did tonight, it’s special to watch,” Casey said. “When he’s talking and he’s engaged in the game, there’s not many people that can stop him.”
Chambers set another career high by drilling all six of his 3-point attempts. He scored 13 of the Crimson’s final 29 points.
“He’s a big-time winner,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “He’s always sensed moments and has seized moments when it’s been there for him and that’s the mark of a truly special kid.
“For him to have that kind of performance in a game where we weren’t at our best, it just shows you those are the kinds of players that pull you through.”
With leading scorer Wesley Saunders bottled up (6 points on 1-for-3 shooting) and Catamounts point guard Sandro Carissimo breaking loose (career-high 30 points, 11-of-19 shooting, four threes), the Crimson needed everything Chambers could give them.
Coming in, Amaker was well aware of just how much damage Carissimo could do.
The senior guard hung 25 points on the Crimson last November in Vermont’s 85-78 win, and that performance was still fresh in Amaker’s mind. It stood as Carissimo’s scoring high until he tagged Harvard for another milestone on Saturday.
Amaker’s plan was to put his best perimeter defender, Saunders, on Carissimo.
But while watching Carissimo score 19 points in the second half, including 8 straight that gave Vermont (4-8) a 47-45 lead, Amaker realized how difficult it would be to stop him.
“This was the first time that we were kind of stunned a little bit,” Amaker said. “Wesley’s usually been our defensive stopper on the perimeter and we weren’t able to guard that kid for whatever reason.”
Out of the gates, the Crimson didn’t hesitate to throw the Catamounts into a 23-8 hole, knocking down seven of their first nine shots. But Vermont dug itself out one hustle play at a time.
The Catamounts answered the Crimson’s start by outscoring them, 23-13, to end the half.
“When you’re down, being a tough, experienced, winning-cultured program that they have, they’re not going to pack it in and go away,” Amaker said. “They’re going to fight and scrap and claw and that’s what they did. It certainly threw us off. It got us out of our rhythm and they kind of ran with it.”
But as much as the Crimson struggled to contain Carissimo, the Catamounts spent the afternoon searching for answers against Chambers.
If he wasn’t doing the scoring, he was pulling the strings on offense, with reserves like Travis (7 points and four rebounds in 12 minutes) feeding off of him.
“I’ve always talked about really good players, it’s not so much about the points they scored, it’s about the points they’re responsible for,” Amaker said. “He sets us up, he orchestrates things, he gets us into our offense. He gave us a confidence and a moxy out there that was the difference in us winning.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.