Bulldogs face tough test at Harvard Wednesday night (7p)

Photo by Torrey Vail
Photo by Torrey Vail

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The Bryant University men's basketball team returns to the road, but won't have to travel far to take on regional foe Harvard Wednesday night at 7:00 p.m. in Cambridge, Mass. The contest is the first of back-to-back away games for the Black and Gold.

The Bulldogs and the Crimson have faced off on the hardwood twice before, with Harvard winning both contests. The Crimson earned a 77-51 home win in the series debut back in November of 2009 and edged out Bryant in Smithfield, 69-66, in the teams' last meeting back on Nov. 24, 2010.

Harvard has yet to suffer a loss on the young 2013-14 season and is knocking on the door of the Top 25, receiving votes in both the AP and USA Today national polls. The Crimson haven't lost at home in their last eight contests dating back to last season, when the team won the Ivy League championship and became one of the 2013 NCAA tournament's darlings after advancing into the third round. Harvard loses just a single letterwinner from that team and is led this season by Wesley Saunders and Brandyn Curry, who average 14.7 and 14.0 points per game, respectively. Saunders, Jonah Travis (10.7 ppg) and Kyle Casey (9.7 ppg) all average a team-leading 5.7 rebounds per outing, and the Harvard defense has limited opponents to just 51 points per game in victories over Holy Cross, MIT and Howard so far this season. The Crimson pull in an impressive 40.3 boards per contest and have been strong on the block already, averaging more than six stuffs each time out, a statistic paced by four each from Saunders and Steve Moundou-Missi (6.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg). Siyani Chambers adds 8.3 points per game and leads the side with 11 helpers. As a team, Harvard is shooting 44.8 percent from the field with a 25.5 percent clip from downtown and a 76.3 mark from the free throw line.

Just three of Bryant's 16 current players — seniors Alex Francis, Corey Maynard and Claybrin McMath — have faced Harvard before, and McMath, a fifth-year senior, is the only player to have squared off against the Crimson twice in his career. The teams' 2010 matchup at the Chace Athletic Center saw Francis and Maynard score 14 and 11 points, respectively, as rookies with the Black and Gold, while McMath averages 7.0 points per game, appearing in both previous outings between the two programs. The trio is shooting a combined 46.2 percent (18-of-39) against the Ivy League foe.

Wednesday's matchup marks the second of four contests against members of the Ivy League in 2013-14 and is the third time these teams have met in the Bulldogs' Division I era. Bryant is 1-0 against Ivy League opponents so far this season after topping Dartmouth in Hanover, N.H., 87-77 a week ago. All-time, Bryant is 4-16 against the Ancient Eight in its short Division I history, having matched up against Columbia (0-3), Brown (1-4), Cornell (0-2), Harvard (0-2), Yale (1-4) and Dartmouth (2-1) over the last five seasons. In the history of the program, the Bulldogs are just 4-23 against Ivy League opponents, most frequently matching up against intrastate rival Brown (1-11).

It has been a historic start for Bryant junior guard Dyami Starks, who currently leads the nation in scoring. The sharpshooting Preseason All-NEC pick — and now two-time defending Choice Hotels/Northeast Conference Player of the Week — enters Wednesday's matchup averaging 33.3 points per game and has scored 30 or more points in each of the team's first three outings. In doing so, Starks has made Northeast Conference history, scoring 100 points over just a trio of games. He is the first player in the NEC recordbooks to ever hit the 100-point mark in the season's first three outings and is off to the hottest start by an NEC player since LIU Brooklyn's Charles Jones erupted for 102 points in his first three appearances of the 1997-98 season. (Jones missed the season's first two games.)

Starks opened the season looking quite at home in the Kennel, dropping a career-high 35 points on No. 15 Gonzaga on Nov. 9. He matched that effort a week ago on the road against Dartmouth in an 87-77 victory and then went on to score 30 in the Bulldogs' home-opening win over Vermont Saturday night, netting his 100th point of the season with 2:16 left to play.

Dyami Starks not only became the first NEC player to hit the century mark in his first three appearances since 1997 (see note above), he also became the first NEC player to record back-to-back 35+ point games since Robert Morris's Gene Nabors scored 38 and 35 in the NEC Tournament on March 3-4, 2000. He also became the first player in NEC history to post three-straight 30+ point games since Charles Jones did so during 1996-97 campaign. Starks's consecutive 35-, 35- and 30-point performances mark the first three 30-point games of his career.

In what could be a season filled with milestones, senior forward Alex Francis needs just one more rebound to become only the 13th player in NEC history to reach 1,500 points and 750 boards in his career. Francis, who has amassed 1,540 points and 749 rebounds in his three-plus years in Smithfield, is set to join some select company, including NEC Hall of Famers Rik Smits and Desi Wilson.

Currently, Francis is the NEC's active scoring leader and ranks second in career rebounds among all active players on the league circuit. He enters this week's action tied for 54th on the Northeast Conference all-time career scoring list and 27th in the league's all-time career rebounding rankings. The senior also currently ranks eighth in the Bryant record books for total points and fifth for total career rebounds.

Senior forward Alex Francis could also become the first player in Northeast Conference history to score 2,000 points and pull down 1,000 rebounds in a career. An All-NEC First Teamer last season and unanimous Preseason All-NEC pick, he enters Saturday's game with 1,540 career points and 749 career rebounds and will need to average 16.4 points per game and 9.0 rebounds per outing to hit those marks before the conclusion of the regular season. A former NEC Rookie of the Year and potential Player of the Year candidate as a senior, Francis has boasted back-to-back 500-point campaigns, but will need to post a career season on the glass (272) to hit the mark.

In addition to Alex Francis's top rankings on the NEC active lists, senior guard Corey Maynard also makes an appearance among the league's active leaders in both rebounding and assists. With 346 career boards and 260 career dimes, Maynard ranks seventh and fifth on the active leader lists, respectively.

The Bulldogs have certainly added depth in 2013-14, but the Bryant bench has yet to prove it on the scoreboard. Through the season's first three games, four Bulldog starters — juniors Dyami Starks and Joe O'Shea and seniors Alex Francis and Corey Maynard — are responsible for more than 85 percent of Bryant's total scoring (213 of 250 points). If you go outside the starting lineup, Bryant's bench has contributed just 32 points so far this season. Leading the way with 100 points already, Starks alone accounts for 40 percent of the team's total offense.

1,000 REASONS...
After leading the Bulldogs in nearly every offensive statistic and setting the program's Division I mark for points in a season last year, junior sharpshooter Dyami Starks could become the third player in a two-year span to join the 1,000-point club. He enters Wednesday's contest with 736 career points, 88 of those coming during his freshman campaign at Columbia (2010-11). Starks will need to average just 9.4 points per game — well below both his Bryant (19.1) and career (13.6) scoring average — to eclipse the milestone by the end of the 2013-14 regular season.

The Bryant men's basketball team will be featured in live national and regional broadcasts six times throughout the 2013-14 season. The Bulldogs will see air time on ESPNU at Notre Dame on Dec. 9 and at Robert Morris Jan. 30 (also on ESPN3). The Big Ten Network will carry Bryant's Dec. 11 game at Ohio State, while NEC road matchups against LIU Brooklyn on Jan. 23 (MSG+, Fox College Sports and Cox) and Wagner Feb. 16 (CBS Sports Network) will also air nationally. Bryant's Saturday season opener against Gonzaga can be seen live on KHQ/Root Sports.

Single-game and season ticket packages are still available for the 2013-14 Bryant University men's and women's basketball seasons. Fans can purchase tickets online at bryantbulldogs.com/tickets or by calling the Bryant Athletics Ticket Office at 401-319-TIXX.

For the sixth-consecutive season, all Bryant University basketball home games and select road contests can be heard LIVE on WOON 1240 AM and online at bryantbulldogs.com. Veteran sportscaster Jon Wallach of 98.5 FM The Sports Hub Boston returns to call the action as the voice of the Bulldogs, alongside color analyst Tristan Hobbes.

The Bulldogs remain on the road for a Sunday afternoon (1:00 p.m.) matchup against the University of New Hampshire. The game will mark Bryant's second contest against an opponent out of the America East after topping Vermont Saturday night, 87-64, in the team's home opener.