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New England Basketball Notebook: Harvard Shines In Season-Opener

Men's Basketball between the Harvard Crimson and the Columbia Lions

Bryce Aiken and the Harvard University men’s basketball team are motivated to return to the NCAA Tournament this upcoming season. (PHOTO COURTESY: David Dermer/Harvard Athletics)

By Matt Noonan | @MattyNoonz11

For Harvard University, Tuesday’s 84-27 victory over MIT was an ideal way to begin a new season, but also an opportunity to gain some much-needed momentum heading into an important non-conference clash on Friday with Northeastern University.

Multiple Crimson players contributed on both ends of the floor against the Engineers, including first-year forward Chris Ledlum, who recorded his first collegiate double-double of 13 points and 11 rebounds. Senior Christian Juzang netted 12 points, while classmate Chris Lewis stuffed the stat sheet with nine points, seven rebounds, one assist, and one block.

Harvard’s 57-point victory margin matched the 1945-46 team, which established the mark with their win over Northeastern.

While it certainly was an impressive start to their 2019-20 campaign, Harvard, as well as their coach Tommy Amaker, know they have more work to do in order to accomplish their preseason goals. And one of those goals, according to senior guard Bryce Aiken, is to return to the NCAA Tournament, something the Crimson have not done since 2015.

Harvard has come close to returning to the ‘big dance,’ but has fallen short the past three seasons in the Ivy League tournament. Additionally, they saw their run toward a National Invitational Tournament (NIT) title conclude twice within the past two years, including this past March when they lost a heartbreaker in the second round to North Carolina State University.

But despite falling short of accomplishing past preseason goals or winning tournaments and championships, Aiken remains optimistic. He believes this year’s crew can “make history,” and from what fans witnessed the other evening against MIT, perhaps the senior guard believes this year’s squad is truly capable of not just winning an Ivy League conference tournament but challenging other teams from across the country for the ultimate prize, a national championship. 

“The biggest motivation for us as seniors (this year) is leaving with a bang, man,” said senior Bryce Aiken, who elected to return to campus for one more season after initially entering his name for the 2019 National Basketball Association (NBA) Draft last April.

“We haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament, so that is the biggest motivating factor for us.”

Added Juzang, “It’s been three years of all of us (for) things you can look at and you can call motivation (from) the Ivy League championship games, the NC State game, and we could point to a bunch of different things, but I think the biggest thing is (we’re) internally driven, not getting pushed around by the expectations and whatnot.”

The expectations, as both the coaches and student-athletes know, is rather high for a team that is scheduled to face some stiff competition this month against Northeastern, University at Buffalo, and Texas A&M. Harvard could also face the University of Maryland this month, too – they would need to beat the Aggies of Texas A&M in the opening round of the Orlando Invitational, which is scheduled to commence on Thanksgiving Day.

Weeks after competing in the Orlando Tournament, Harvard will commence conference play in mid-to-late January against Dartmouth College before ending the month with a visit to the University of Pennsylvania, which opened its 2019-20 season with an 81-80 win over the University of AlabamaPenn lost to Harvard last March in the Ivy League semifinals but was picked second in the conference preseason poll.

Yet, before Harvard worries about Dartmouth, Penn, and other future foes, they will keep their focus on Northeastern, a team that beat the Crimson last November, thanks to a game-high 35 points by Jordan Rolland. Rolland will certainly be a player the Crimson will need to slow down in order to pick-up their second win of the season, but from a quick glance at this year’s roster, Harvard is loaded with talent to slow down their opponents’ top players, and will certainly receive a boost from an impressive and hard-working first-year class.

Amaker praised his freshman class, which was ranked 38th nationally, according to 247Sports.com. All five newcomers logged time on Tuesday against MIT and have seemed to adapt to the college game quite well it seems.

“I have been impressed with our first-years,” said Amaker during the team’s media day last Friday. “This is a tough-minded group. They are physical – you look at who they are (with their) bodies and (what) they are capable of taking in … they have been durable, but they have been very (impressive) with their durability, dependability, and then fitting in.

“Our future is good hands with this first-year class.”

No matter who is on the floor Friday and later this season – Aiken, Ludlum, Juzang, sophomore Noah Kirkwood or seniors Seth Towns and Henry Welsh – Harvard is expected to compete and play some impressive basketball that should translate into more wins and an exciting 2019-20 season.

News and Notes from New England: 

  • Andrew Fleming became the 31st player in the University of Maine men’s basketball program to net 1,000 points as the senior helped the Black Bears defeat Merrimack College, 84-64, on Wednesday evening. Fleming, who was named a preseason America East All-Conference honoree, recorded 37 points and 10 rebounds against the Warriors to go along with five assists and two blocks.
  • Keep your eyes on the Saint Anselm College women’s basketball team this weekend – the Hawks, who were picked to finish atop the Northeast-10 Conference will tip-off Saturday, November 9th against Bloomfield College at 6:30 p.m. After facing the Bears, the Hawks will cap their weekend with a late Sunday afternoon contest against the University of Bridgeport.

    Senior Shannon Ryan will be one of many student-athletes to watch on the Hawks this winter. Ryan recorded a double-double of 29 points and 18 rebounds last weekend against Bishop’s University.

  • WPI, which secured the fourth spot in our New England D-III Men’s Basketball Top 10 Preseason Poll, tips-off its season against ninth-ranked Brandeis University on Friday. Both teams are two squads to watch this winter – the Engineers were picked to capture the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC), while Brandeis is expected to continue its success from last year under second-year coach Jean Bain.
  • Finally, make sure to read Bob Whitney‘s first column, Around The Rim – I am very excited to have Bob join our team this winter to produce some additional basketball content. Bob has covered the college and high school game for years and will be a great addition to our Noontime Sports staff.