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Jonah Travis steals the show as Harvard returns Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry

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BOSTON — The expectations have never been higher for the Harvard men’s basketball team. The Crimson made their second consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament last March, making it to the Round of 32 after upsetting No. 3 New Mexico. Tommy Amaker’s team returns virtually every key player while adding highly-touted recruit Zena Edosomwan and having Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry rejoin the program.

The Crimson got a good fight from the Crusaders, but in the end Curry, Siyani Chambers, and reserve forward Jonah Travis made the plays down the stretch to come away with an 82-72 win in the finale of the Coaches vs. Cancer tripleheader at the TD Garden. Travis’ 20-point, 10-rebound performance in 22 minutes overshadowed the return of Casey and Curry, but also showed how scary this Harvard team can be.

“I think naturally a lot of the players on our team are unselfish,” Harvard forward Wesley Saunders said. “That is kind of something we don’t have to worry about. We do it naturally. So anybody, on any given night as the opportunity to have a great game just as Jonah showed. He came in and dominated the game.”

Casey had the first bucket on the night with a two-handed slam, though those would be two of his four points on the evening, being saddled with foul trouble that ended when he got hit with his fifth with more than six minutes to go in the contest. Travis, who played 16.5 minutes per game last season, doubled his scoring average from a year ago in the first half when he had 12 points and grabbed four rebounds coming off the bench.

“I know what coaches expects of me,” Travis said. “And that’s when I’m on the court to come in with energy and come in there with a bang and provide what we need when I’m in there. I know what I need to do.

“My job is to provide energy for the team and if that helps them get over the hump or the slow start we had then that’s what I need to do. They needed me to grab rebounds, set screens and score when I was open, and that’s what I did.”

One of the questions for the Crimson was how the would incorporate Casey and Curry — two captains from the 2011-2012 team that made the program’s first tournament — back in to the lineup with some much talent. Casey was plagued with foul trouble, but Curry and returning point guard Siyani Chambers looked good playing alongside each other in the Crimson back court.

“It’s great to have those two,” Saunders said. “They compliment each other really well. Just to have more ball handlers on the court, who can relieve pressure and make plays for everybody on the court is a luxury to have and I think they really are the driving force of our team. They are the two-headed monster that makes our team go.”

Chambers entered the break with zero points and two assists, but after Holy Cross took a one-point lead with under six minutes to play, Chambers responded with a one-man 7-0 run, capped off by a corner three he drained off an assist by Curry.

“We had kind of thinking that for a while to have both of those kids on the floor for us as much as possible together,” Amaker said. “I think our team functions better when they are out there. They can penetrate and drive a little bit more and they are our two best playmakers in addition to Wesley. The more ball handlers and playmakers you can have on the floor, in our system, the better.”

The bad news for Harvard came after the game when Amaker announced that Kenyatta Smith is out indefinitely with a leg injury. The 6-foot-8 junior hurts the Crimson, but Travis’ career night showed something that could be a season-long theme for the Ivy League favorite.

“In any given day, in any given night it could be anyone who provides the necessary play or plays that can propel us to having a positive performance,” Amaker said.

No. 4 Maryland refocuses, slows down No. 18 Purdue

Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon watches from the sideline during a break in play in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Purdue, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, in College Park, Md. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
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No. 18 Purdue and No. 4 Maryland exchanged leads for most of the first 33 minutes before the Boilermakers scored five straight points on layups by Rapheal Davis (who was fouled on his make) and Caleb Swanigan. Purdue was getting the touches it wanted around the basket, and Mark Turgeon’s Terrapins weren’t doing a whole lot to keep it from happening either.

Turgeon called a timeout to get his team back in sync defensively, and as a result Maryland went on a 9-0 run that ultimately led to their winning by the final score of 72-61.

Maryland’s big men, Robert Carter Jr. and Diamond Stone, did a much better job down the stretch of keeping Purdue from getting the ball inside to senior center A.J. Hammons. Hammons finished the game with 18 points and ten rebounds, but only two of those points came after Maryland’s 9-0 second half run. But keeping the ball from getting inside is just as much about the players defending the passers as it is keeping the big(s) from getting to his preferred spot.

Defensively Maryland took away the passing angles and essentially made Purdue’s guards make plays, something they’ve struggled with at times this season. That led to far too many perimeter shots for Purdue, which shot 3-for-23 on the day from beyond the arc. Add in the fact that they attempted just five free throws as a team, making two, and areas in which the Boilermakers can benefit went neglected in College Park.

By comparison Maryland was able to make a habit of going to the foul line, shooting 24-for-27 from the charity stripe with Rasheed Sulaimon and Melo Trimble combining to go 17-for-19 on the day. The foul line helped Trimble make up for an off day from the field, as he shot 2-for-12, but the sophomore’s ability to work off of ball screens ultimately opened things up for Maryland even with his shots not falling.

Add in the fact that Sulaimon (21 points, ten rebounds) and Carter (19 points, seven rebounds) were able to pick up the slack, with Diamond Stone adding 12 points and six rebounds, and it’s easy to see why Maryland was able to turn things around down the stretch.

Maryland’s been a good defensive team this season, but they got away from that for a significant portion of Saturday’s game. A key timeout to get the team refocused paid off, the the Terrapins defending at a level that made it incredibly difficult for Purdue to get anything going. And as a result, Maryland remains within a game of leaders Iowa and Indiana in the Big Ten title race.

Darryl Reynolds shines, Kris Dunn struggles as No. 3 Villanova beat No. 11 Providence

Villanova forward Darryl Reynolds (45) dunks the ball in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Creighton, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016, in Villanova, Pa. Villanova won 83-58. (AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)
(AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)
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Replacing the injured Daniel Ochefu, who missed his third straight game as the result of a concussion, Darryl Reynolds finished with a career-high 19 points and 10 boards as No. 3 Villanova went into Providence and knocked off the No. 11 Friars, 72-60.

Josh Hart chipped in with 14 points and 13 boards (seven of which were offensive), Kris Jenkins notched a double-double as well and Ryan Arcidiacono added 16 points for the Wildcats, who improved to 10-1 in Big East play, keeping them all alone in first place in the league.

Perhaps the most impressive part of this win, which wasn’t quite as close as the final score would indicate, is that Villanova did it while shooting just 5-for-22 from three. The Wildcats have been reliant on the three during this recent run atop the conference, and on Saturday, they won by controlling the the glass and the paint.

Reynolds’ performance was something else. This is a guy who entered the game averaging just 2.3 points and a reputation for being little more than the reason that Ochefu played so many minutes, but it got to the point on Saturday that he was being double-teamed in the post to get the ball out of his hands. That’s pretty remarkable.

As if the fact that Villanova, playing without their best rebounder, grabbed 12 offensive rebounds and totally controlled the defensive glass.

 

Much of that is likely due to the fact that Ben Bentil, the 6-foot-8 forward for the Friars that is the Big East’s leading scorer, was dealing with an ankle injury he suffered at DePaul earlier this week. He finished 20 points, but much of that came in the form of jumpers and shots at the rim while his two rebounds was much more indicative of the impact that he was able to make with his ankle.

But what was really concerning for Providence was that Kris Dunn was downright awful. He shot 4-for-15 from the floor, committed six turnovers and simply made the wrong decision too many times. Yes, he was likely pressing due to the fact that Bentil was injured and Villanova’s defense was keying on him, but it’s not exactly comforting to know that this is what his floor is.

He’s Kris Dunn.

He’s going to be keyed on by defenses every single time he steps on a basketball court.

He has to be better than he was today.