Harvard's big freshman finding his footing

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- The logic is pretty straightforward.

Tommy Amaker called the frontcourt the key to the Crimson’s season. Kenyatta Smith was expected to be a big part of it, emerging at the tail end of the 2012-13 season as a defensive difference-maker and improving offensive player.

Then Smith hurt his foot in the final week of practice, leading up to the opener at TD Garden against Holy Cross. He’s spent the first two games on the bench in a suit, a walking boot on his left foot.

With Smith out indefinitely, the remaining frontcourt players will have to step up and shoulder a larger load. Steve Moundou-Missi has stepped into the starting lineup and reserve Jonah Travis helped beat the Crusaders with a double-double.

Should more also be expected out of highly regarded freshman Zena Edosomwan?

“Zena’s a great player,” teammate Wesley Saunders said Tuesday after Harvard’s 79-37 win over MIT in the home opener at Lavietes Pavilion. “He’s just young, so he’s kinda learning how to operate at the college level.

“I think that you saw that he was starting to figure it out as the game went on, getting adjusted to the speed of everything and kind of getting going.”

Indeed, against the Engineers, the 6-foot-9, 245-pounder seemed to hit his stride in the second half.

Early, the Los Angeles native’s shot was off the mark. He missed a short turnaround in the post, getting fouled and making one of two from the line for his first collegiate point. He blocked a shot on defense, then got another shot in the post. On the left block, he gave his defender a little shake, spun left and clanged a shot off the front rim.

With a short jumper from the left block late in the first half, Edosomwan got his first bucket. He finished the first 20 minutes 1-for-5 for three points, with three rebounds and one block.

“He’ll make improvements and he’ll keep getting better,” Saunders said. “So we should look forward to what he has to offer this season.”

Then in the second half, Edosomwan shot 5-for-8 for 10 points, adding a steal, an assist and a turnover.

After the game, head still damp and a smile plastered on his face, Edosomwan said he was happy to finally be on the floor at Lavietes. He said he’s still adjusting to the speed of the game, and that he knows that without Smith all the Crimson big men will have to do more.

He finished as the game’s second-highest scorer, with 13 points (one behind Saunders and MIT’s Matt Redfield at 14).

The fact is, Edosomwan is a freshman playing on a deep team with big aspirations in 2013-14, and he’ll have to earn his minutes against top-flight opponents.

The game against the Engineers gave Amaker the perfect opportunity to test the team’s depth.

Harvard blew the game open with a 20-0 run Tuesday night, started by a Kyle Casey alley-oop from Siyani Chambers that brought a roar from the stands.

Asked if fans would see him making that kind of acrobatic finish, Edosomwan laughed.

“Let me focus on making layups first,” he said. “Then we’ll see about alley-oops.”

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.