Fordham guards Jon Severe and Branden Fraizer torched Harvard for a combined 60 points Saturday, but the Crimson’s balanced effort got them past the Rams at Rose Hill Gym, 94-86. With this victory, Harvard (11-1) has now won seven games in a row, including six away from home.
The Crimson were led by 19 points and nine assists from sophomore guard Siyani Chambers, but their depth was what allowed them to overcome the Rams and their sold-out gym. Five other Harvard players scored in double figures.
“I was so pleased with the balance we showed,” Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker said. “I think that’s been one of the keys for our team — our bench and our balance. Different guys have been able to step forward for us and give us quality minutes. … It makes you a hard team to defend because things can come from a lot of different directions. It doesn’t surprise me, but I’m very pleased to see that we displayed that very well.”
Harvard jumped out to an early 8-4 lead with six quick points from senior forward Kyle Casey, who finished with 17 and nine rebounds.
Fordham (7-5) responded with its own run and took a 16-14 lead on Frazier’s three-pointer with 12:41 left in the half. The Rams and Crimson traded buckets for the next four minutes, and then the Crimson rattled off a 15-0 extended run to take a 38-25 lead into the under-four minute media timeout.
The Rams clung within 11 points at halftime.
Although Severe, Fordham’s star freshman, finished with 29 points, he was held to only two points on 1-of-5 shooting in the first half.
“I think he was struggling defensively a bit and it carried over to his offensive game,” Fordham head coach Tom Pecora said. “They were doing some things that were forcing him to make some reads defensively, and I thought that affected him offensively.”
Harvard continued to play with higher energy early in the second half. With 15:54 to play, the Crimson had built a 54-37 lead.
“I thought our start in the second half really propelled us to have a larger margin,” Amaker said.
Inside of 15 minutes, Severe finally got going as he knocked down his first three-pointer with 14:37 remaining. The freshman, who leads the Atlantic 10 in scoring, made two more triples in the next two minutes. Frazier then drilled a three-pointer to bring the Rams within single digits at 60-53.
After Harvard junior Jonah Travis stopped the bleeding with a layup, Severe converted another trey to make the deficit only two possessions.
The Crimson built their lead back to 15 points, but Frazier and Severe once again prevented the Rams from going quietly. The two guards contributed 15 points and five assists to a 21-10 run that cut the lead to 86-82 in the final minute.
After two free throws from senior Laurent Rivard, the last Crimson member to reach double figures with 10 points, extended the advantage back to three possessions, Fordham failed to convert on the offensive end.
Harvard shot 6-of-6 at the foul line in the final 30 seconds to prevent a final comeback.
“I just told our team that we played hard for about 15 to 18 minutes,” Pecora said after the game. “If you play just guts-out for 40 minutes and you lose a game, then you can sleep at night. But when you don’t [give a full effort], that’s what eats at coaches because there’s great potential. … There are some teams that we played earlier in the year that we could give a partial effort, but that is not what we’re all about and that’s not the way I want our teams to play.”
Though Severe was the Rams’ second-half star with 27 points, Frazier led the Rams with 31 points and seven assists. The senior shot 11-of-20 from the field as he fell two points shy of his career high.
“I expect greatness from him.” Pecora said. “Branden is our senior. He’s got to find a way to get these guys locked in, and have them understand the intensity you need to play with to be a good team.”
All five of Harvard’s starters scored in double figures, but the nice surprise for Amaker was sophomore Agunwa Okolie scoring 17 points off the bench. Okolie, who entered Saturday averaging 2.2 points per game, shot 6-of-7 from the field and made his only three-point attempt.
“I thought he played with a confidence and a fearlessness that was great to see,” Amaker said. “He’s the kind of player that we’ve been waiting for a break through, and I think even the game before this one we’re starting to see signs of growth and confidence.”
The Crimson’s assist rate as a team was through the roof at 80%.
Chambers, the Ivy League’s top assist man, was the team’s top distributor with nine dimes, but junior Wesley Saunders had seven of his own to go along with 14 points and four steals. It was the fourth time this season the versatile Saunders has had at least five assists, and he sits right behind Chambers in the Ivy League with four dimes per game.
Fordham wraps up non-conference play against Siena on Monday while Harvard still has three opponents before it stars Ivy League play against Dartmouth on Jan. 11. The Crimson host Boston College on New Year’s Day, and they play a crucial game, in terms of postseason implications, at nationally ranked Connecticut on Jan. 8.
Other notes from Saturday’s game:
—Fordham head coach Tom Pecora on Harvard: “They definitely have consideration as a Top 25 team. They have great team balance. They all play within themselves — nobody tries to do things they’re not capable of doing.”
—Pecora on how Severe can become a more consistent scorer: “Age. He’s got to get old. There’s very few freshmen that are playing, the term we like to use is championship possessions, where every possession is at a high level and your intensity is through the roof. Veterans play that way. It’s very, very rare to find a freshman who can do that. … It’s a learning process for freshmen no matter how good they are.”
—Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker on Jon Severe: “He’s as good of a scorer as we’ve played all season. He’s so explosive. You can see how streaky he can become, in terms of once he sees that ball go in the basket one or two times, it’s like an ocean out there for him. He’s a scorer in my opinion, watching him and getting prepared. He’s not just a shooter. You can see him put it down, get to the rim.”
—Amaker on receiving votes in the AP Top 25: “I haven’t even thought about it to be very honest. It would be wonderful if those things come our way at some point. But we have to keep improving and certainly keep winning.”