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Harvard holds off MIT, 69-54

Posted by Craig Larson, Globe Staff  November 9, 2012 11:05 PM

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The first five minutes, with senior floor leader Mitchell Kates nearly single-handedly propelling the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to a 10-0 cushion over neighboring Harvard, made the 1,700-plus folks inside Lavietes Pavilion stand up and take notice Friday night.

From the sideline, Harvard coach Tommy Amaker watched his youthful starting five -- featuring three sophomores along with freshman point Siyani Chambers -- commit four turnovers on their first four trips down the floor in the season tipoff for the reigning Ivy League champions.

"Being down 10 zip right away was kind of a hole right away, but we expected a really good game from MIT," said Amaker of an Engineer program that enters the season ranked No. 1 in Division 3 after last year's 29-2 run to the national semifinals.

Harvard dug in defensively with stops, controlled the paint at both ends of the court with its athleticism -- seizing control with a 14-0 run for a 20-12 cushion -- and kicked off the second half with a 6-0 spurt on the way to a 69-54 victory.

"I was pleased with how we handled the basketball, with only nine turnovers, and we forced 18," said Amaker. "But we have a lot of work to do, it's early."

His Crimson are still retooling after losing senior captains Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry, who reportedly withdrew from school for their alleged involvement in a cheating scandal on campus. The Ivy opener at Dartmouth is still two months away, but Harvard will be back on the court Tuesday morning, taking on UMass in Amherst.

Amaker was thrilled with the effort of 6-foot-6-inch sophomore Jonah Travis (6 of 7 shooting, 14 points, 8 rebounds), who supplied grit, energy, and plenty of crafty moves around the basket in 21 minutes off the bench.

"He is an undersized post guy for us, but he uses that to his advantage, his quickness," said the coach. "Strong and explosive. A heart and soul kind of kid."

Chambers, a slick lefty from Minnesota making his first collegiate start, supplied 9 points and three assists in 36 minutes, though those numbers certainly could have been higher had the Crimson finished off a few more of the freshman's feeds.

"When we get the ball in his hands going up the floor, good things happen," said Amaker.

Sophomore post Kenyatta Smith swatted away five MIT shots while contributing 8 points and eight rebounds while Wesley Saunders and Laurent Rivard combined for 21 points.

MIT, which officially opens its season Thursday against Lesley -- Division 3 programs can not tap off until Nov. 15 -- was without All-American center Noel Hollingsworth (recovering from offseason surgery), 3-point threat Jamie Karraker, and reserve point guard Paul Dawson. But the 6-2 Kates (20 points in 39 tireless minutes) was "sensational" in the opinion of Amaker, while 6-7 senior Will Tashman delivered 16 points and nine rebounds.

"They had 38 points in the paint, and if we could have taken care of the ball a little bit better, maybe we would have played a bit better," said MIT coach Larry Anderson.

"Their physicality inside was key for [Harvard]. They pushed us around a little bit."

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