UMass overcomes Chris Ledlum’s big night en route to a 71-68 victory

Minutemen do just enough to take the win

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Dan Fritz/UMass Athletics

By Pedro Gray Soares, Assistant Sports Editor

When Harvard had the ball down by one with two seconds left, everyone in Lavietes Pavilion knew where it was going: Chris Ledlum. He was the reason that the Massachusetts men’s basketball team had to fight this hard.

It’s no secret that Ledlum is the best player for the Crimson (6-3), their offense runs through him. Ledlum made life incredibly difficult for UMass (6-1) in its 71-68 road win. When he caught the inbound pass by the baseline, UMass freshman Tafara Gapare stepped up and Ledlum lost control of the ball, turning it over for a Minutemen win on Friday.

“I thought [Ledlum] rushed it,” Amaker said of the final play. “He caught it and tried to go right away.”

That stop summarizes what UMass needed to do. It couldn’t stop him all night, but it could stop him just barely enough times to win the game.

At 6-foot-6-inches, 225 pounds, Ledlum is a strong forward who can move like a guard. Harvard’s gameplan revolved around getting him the ball. UMass’ gameplan revolved around stopping that from happening.

“He’s a hard guard, but we weren’t very good at it,” Minutemen head coach Frank Martin said. “Our defense was not good. We allowed the ball to get wherever it wanted. We spoke a lot about when he plays from the top of the key, he’s going to drive the ball, and we have to take a charge early in the game to get him to stop. He had three straight plays where he just drove the ball from the top and the guys that to take charges got out of the way… That’s the gameplan going into the game.

“Somehow, someway I went to that zone and it kind of made him disappear a little bit for a little while and I think they got away from him, which is what gave us a chance to then figure out a way to win the game,” he added. “But then they went back to him, and I got no idea how we won that game today. But we did.”

Martin said earlier in the week that they would try to throw as many different looks at Ledlum as possible, with as many different players guarding him as they have available. That’s exactly what they did, but Ledlum still finished with a 25-point, 10-rebound double-double. He made 7-of-13 field goals and 9-of-11 free throws, adding had two blocks and a steal.

Brandon Martin started the game on Ledlum, denying him the ball with every entry pass attempt by the Crimson. When Martin subbed out and Dyondre Dominguez came in for him, he was assigned that same task. The problem is that Ledlum is quicker than Martin and stronger than Dominguez. His versatility allows him to exploit any matchup.

“Coming into the game it was like ‘we got to stop him,’ and we did our best but he’s a great player. He still got buckets,” T.J. Weeks said. “Because he’s so strong and he’s kind of quick on his feet, that’s what makes it hard to guard him. Then he can also shoot a three and make a mid-range and obviously had a layup and a dunk. In the second half we had that focus where if he does drive, we got to help, make it hard for him to score and make him pass out, and make everybody else score around him.”

When Dominguez inevitably got into foul trouble, Gapare earned a role in the game and his athleticism was quickly noticed. Even though his lack of experience didn’t put him in a great spot, Gapare faced Ledlum in the Crimson’s last possession after Dominguez fouled out and helped his team win a nail-biter on the road.

“Chris is tough,” Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker said. “And we try to go to him every time we could and obviously they knew that as well. So it wasn’t as easy just getting him the ball… We certainly wanted him to have it, and we got it to him. And we needed him to see if he could make a play for us, which he’s done so many times in the past.

“He’s tough. He’s competitive. We get on his back and he carries us, and he needed some more help tonight. There’s no doubt about it. And unfortunately, we didn’t give it.”

But Ledlum didn’t just affect the game with scoring. When the Minutemen needed a stop to keep the comeback alive, they gave up two consecutive offensive rebounds to Ledlum. Boxing him out was an issue for UMass all game, as Harvard’s star cleaned the glass three times on the offensive end.

In the end, the Minutemen found a way to overcome his big night, with just a few defensive stops being the difference.

Pedro Gray Soares can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @P_GraySoares