When games don’t start out as a team expects, a good coach will say it doesn’t matter how the team starts the game, it’s how it finishes it.
Such was the case for Tommy Amaker and the Crimson men’s basketball team Saturday at Lavietes Pavilion.
After a dismal start — Harvard missed its first nine field goal attempts — the Crimson found their rhythm.
Behind 14 points and five assists from freshman point guard Siyani Chambers, Harvard held off a late surge to defeat Holy Cross, 72-65.
“I thought both teams really played hard and gave a great effort to win this basketball game,” said Amaker, who watched his club hang on after giving up a 14-point lead.
“I was really pleased with the effort that our kids gave to be able to fight through this after we lost the lead.’’
Both teams had trouble on the offensive end early.
The Crimson (6-4) scored a lone free throw over the game’s first six minutes, while the Crusaders (7-5) had issues with ball security.
Harvard was looking inside early, but Crusaders center Phil Beans and forward Dave Dudzinski, both of whom towered over the Crimson at 6 feet 9 inches, swallowed up any play inside. Holy Cross led, 6-1, at the six-minute mark.
The Crimson then went on a 10-4 run, aided by two 3-pointers from senior guard Christian Webster, to take an 11-10 lead midway through the half.
The game became a back-and-forth affair, but Harvard finished the half on an 11-4 run, pushing them ahead, 36-27. After starting 0 for 9, the Crimson entered the locker room sinking 14 of 28 shots.
The Crimson continued their surge to start the second half, scoring on seven straight field goal attempts. But the Crusaders tried to keep it close, as Dudzinski and point guard Justin Burrell prevented the game from becoming a blowout. Just over five minutes into the half, however, Harvard had pushed their lead to 52-38.
But just as the Crimson appeared to have found their peak form, they went cold again, allowing the Crusaders to storm back. Burrell followed up a 3-pointer with a graceful floating shot that cut the deficit to single digits. Forward Malcolm Miller converted two free throws following a hard foul, and senior forward Eric Obeysekere added 4 points to close the gap to 52-49.
Then, following a shot-clock violation on Harvard, Dudzinski hit a turnaround hook shot to cut the deficit to 1. Dudzinski was then fouled and hit both free throws.
With 10 minutes remaining in the game, the Crusaders had erased a 14-point deficit with a 15-0 run in five minutes and led, 53-52.
“We were trying to focus on the defensive end,” said Chambers. “When they went on that run, we were just trying to buckle down on defense to stop the run and start our own run.”
Harvard was able to end their slump with a Jonah Travis 3-point play. Holy Cross’s Cullen Hamilton buried a 3-pointer from the left corner, but the Crimson tacked on 4 quick points: two free throws by Webster and a Chambers layup, making it 59-56.
Holy Cross took the lead again after two quick baskets, but Harvard made their free throws down the stretch. With 2:50 remaining, Chambers drove for the basket, and made a tough shot after contact. He converted the free throw for the 3-point play, and the Crimson were up, 67-62.
Chambers finished 5 for 7 from the field.
Burrell missed two jumpers late with the score 68-65, and junior guard Laurent Rivard made four free throws to close the game.
“This is a game of runs,” said Amaker. “We got on a run, they got on a run, that’s how it works. We were fortunate to withstand their rally there.”
Crimson forward Wesley Saunders, standing as one of Harvard’s tallest players at 6-5, played strong in the paint against Beans and Dudzinski. The sophomore collected 15 points and four rebounds against the physical duo.
Dudzinski scored a game-high 22 points for Holy Cross, which shot an impressive 49 percent from the field. The Crimson, despite their rough start, finished shooting 50 percent from the field.
“We’re excited to be able to end this segment [of the season] with a win against a very good basketball team — a team I think is playing extraordinarily well,’’ said Amaker.
“They’re very hot right now, and I thought our effort overall was very solid.”