The characteristic spattering of red and white in the stands of Newman Arena will turn entirely black this weekend, as the Red takes on Harvard and Dartmouth in the annual Newman Nation Jersey Night. The first 1,000 students to arrive at Friday night’s matchup against Harvard will receive a voucher for a black jersey that can be cashed in at Saturday’s game against Dartmouth.
This weekend marks the first home Ivy series for the Red (10-11, 2-2 Ivy League), and the promise of a large crowd is giving the team a little extra motivation for two important games.
“Any time you come back home you’re excited to play, [especially] after two tough road games,” said senior guard Johnathan Gray. “Having a lot of people packed in and hearing the crowd behind us is going to be very exciting, we’re anxious to get out there.”
The crucial pair of weekend games will kickoff at 7 p.m. against Harvard (12-6, 4-0), a team that lost its two star players due to a cheating scandal at the beginning of the year. The Crimson has still managed to remain undefeated in the conference and is one game ahead of Princeton. Though Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry accounted for almost 20 points a game last season, Gray expects that the Crimson’s strategy will not have changed much despite the loss.
“We’ve scouted them a little bit, they have some young guys,” he said. “There won’t be anything different in their style of play, we just have to pay more attention to personnel.”
Most of the Crimson’s scoring so far this season is coming from the backcourt in guards Laurent Rivard, Siyani Chambers and Wesley Saunders, who are combining for more than 30 points per game. Saunders and Chambers are also both shooting better than 46 percent from beyond the arc.
“In general, I’d say we’ll have to contest their three-point shooters and limit their dribble penetration, which they’ve been doing a good job with,” said senior forward Eitan Chemerinski.
The big story for the Crimson so far has been Chambers, who has made a profound impact in his rookie season, averaging 13.3 points and 6.1 assists. He leads the conference in the latter category by a margin of almost two per game. Though the Red is familiar with Harvard’s game plan and style of play, the squad has yet to see Chambers himself in live action and will need to find a way to contain him.
“He’s young and we have to try to speed him up and make him uncomfortable,” Gray said. “[Young guys] tend to play free, and that can be one of their strengths when they come in and just play ball. So we have to make him think and take away the things he likes to do.”
The Red has spent time this week studying film of Chambers’ game, hoping to pinpoint his strengths.
“Our coaches always do a good job preparing us with the film they watch,” Chemerinski said. “We’ll watch a lot of film on him and have a game plan [for guarding him].”
On Saturday, the Red will be back at it against Dartmouth (5-13, 1-3), a team that has struggled in the past and finds itself in a three-way tie for the bottom spot in the conference. However, one of the squad’s losses was a five-point overtime defeat by Harvard in which the Green was actually up by seven with 1:10 left on the clock.
“Dartmouth is an improved team; they’ve been playing well so we’ll have to come out with a lot of defensive intensity and push the tempo,” Chemerinski said.
The Green’s offense features balanced scoring, with four players averaging eight or more points per game. Center Gabas Maldunas leads the team with 10.8 points and 6.2 rebounds and will be a focal point for the Red’s defense in the paint. Sophomore Jvonte Brooks — who was runner-up behind sophomore Shonn Miller for Ivy League Rookie of the Year last season — is averaging 7.5 points, but has yet to break out in conference play.
“We can’t overlook Dartmouth at all,” Gray said. “We’ve seen what they’ve done. They played Harvard in a tough game coming down to the wire. They’ve struggled in the past, but at this point, we can’t afford any more losses.”
This “can’t lose” mentality has pervaded the Red’s locker room, as the team understands the precarious position it is in right now. In a tie for third place, the squad stands in the middle of the pack, and two wins this weekend would provide a significant boost.
“Right now there’s a state of emergency, we understand we can’t take anymore losses, we have to focus in on each game and play like it’s our last,” Gray said. “This is a good opportunity to keep moving up the ladder, we just have to play together. It’s an important time of year to be playing our best.”