NEW HAVEN — Tommy Amaker waited to see how long it would take his team to put up any kind of resistance.
He waited to see if they’d stop Yale from wiping the offensive glass clean and turning missed shots into extra possessions and extra possessions into second-chance points.
He waited to see if his team would push back when the brick walls in the Bulldogs front court, Justin Sears and Brandon Sherrod, flexed their muscles in the paint.
The longer he waited, the deeper Harvard’s hole got.
By the 13:11 mark in the second half, Yale was on cruise control with an 18-point lead, and Amaker found himself flicking the lighter trying to find a lineup that could give a lifeless Harvard offense some kind of spark.
“We weren’t getting the necessary production or competitiveness that we needed up front against their front line,” Amaker said. “They’re very physical, athletic. We were somewhat overmatched there. That’s disappointing to have to say that, but that’s the way the game went for us, so we made the change.”
The changes started at the top. Amaker took the team’s tentpole, Zena Edosomwan, out of the game along with team captain Evan Cummins.
He went to his bench and called on freshman Weisner Perez and and sophomore Chris Egi, hoping they could find a rhythm with Corbin Miller, Agunwa Okolie and Patrick Steeves.
For Egi, the message was clear. “Coach, his key word for the game was compete,” Egi said. “We were just trying to come in and bring some energy. We kind of just turned up the energy.”
The switch didn’t change the outcome. Yale (19-6 overall, 10-1 Ivy) still snatched 37 rebounds as a team, feasted on second-chance points (12) and walked away with a 59-50 win, sweeping its season series with the Crimson for the first time since 2008 and moving one step closer to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1962.
But the spark that the reserves gave the Crimson may have been enough to send a message with Harvard falling to 11-16 overall and 3-8 in the Ivy League.
That lineup put together a 9-0 run that finally had the Crimson showing vital signs after being dominated by the Bulldogs all night.
“They earned it,” Amaker said. “They deserved it. Those kids and that lineup tonight gave us the best chance of trying to win this ballgame.
“I thought those guys really gave us a shot in the arm and competed till the end and that’s what we needed,” Amaker said. “I thought we were active, we had great energy, I thought we were fighting for things. I was real proud of those guys.”
Between Makai Mason (16 points, six assists), Justin Sears (12 points, nine rebounds) and Brandon Sherrod (11 points, six rebounds), the Bulldogs had more weapons than the Crimson could handle.
Steeves gave the Crimson a game-high 16 points off the bench. Okolie added 11, but his energy was more important, Amaker said.
“You can see how hard he’s playing,” said Amaker. “He’s been an amazing example of what we want in our program and how hard he’s playing and how much it means to him and the pride he’s taking and the way he’s representing that jersey. You see how hard he’s competing and it says a lot.”
Edosomwan missed all five of the shots he took and never saw the court again after being taken out. It was the first time all season that the Crimson’s leading scorer went scoreless.
While Yale sits atop the Ivy League, tied with Princeton in the loss column, the defeat gave Harvard its first losing season since 2008-09.
Whether his team gets the message with three games left in the season is a question Amaker couldn’t answer.
“I don’t know,” Amaker said. “We’re just trying to find guys from game to game that can give us what we’re looking for. Sometimes that can change. I don’t know the answer to that.”