Those who are accustomed to watching fine basketball found much to complain about after Harvard's 67 to 56 victory over Tufts here Saturday night, but the Medford partisans had more occasion for wincing than Crimson fans. And all things considered, it was food to end the 19-game losing streak which began last December 21.
Harvard's performance in winning was by no means impressive. Its fast-break attack did not function so smoothly or so effectively as it might have, and therefore, the Crimson resorted to more of a control-type game. In addition, Harvard's scoring trailed off at the end of both periods, a deplorable trend which marked most of last season's discombooberations. In the last two minutes of play, Tufts threw in eight points to the Crimson's three.
However, the winners were never pressed and they had the game well in hand by the time Tufts tried to muster a late rally. This was largely because, in addition to outscoring the visitors from the floor, (not from scrimmage, but from the foul line), Harvard had the superior defense.
Coach Norman Shepard used a shifting defense--man-to-man on the outside. But to keep his defenders from being screened by the weaving Jumbo offense, he often had them switch men on the outside. This kept the middle so well bottled up that in the first half, Mullaney was the only Jumbo who could break through and score with any consistency. Mullaney got six field goals in the first period, but was held to two in the second. In that period, Tufts had to rely mainly in the long set-shots on Captain Al Perry.
There was more than one encouraging aspect of Harvard's showing. This year's team, even in its first game, made a tremendous improvement over last year's as far as foul and set shooting percentages go. It made 24 baskets in 73 attempts from scrimmage--or 33 per cent, generally considered above average.
As for free throws, the Crimson made seven straight, and, in all 19 for 26, better than 70 per cent. Indeed, Harvard made good 19 charity tosses to Tufts' eight, with both teams scoring 24 field goals.
Ed Smith, who took scoring laurels, tallied on eight out of nine foul throws and worked well with Bill Prior in Shepard's two-man pivot scheme. Bill Hickey set up most of the plays and did a creditable job.
Harvard did not appear so tired physically as it did last year, when the team had to sprawl out on the floor during a time out. Saturday, it gathered around Shepard and, standing, got instructions during intermissions.
Tufts was not a real test of this team's abilities. We have not seen yet whether it can come from behind to how it will play when not in the lead. Nevertheless, Shepard has won what he called the most important game on his schedule, and his men have shown sufficient evidence that they will be able to improve as the competition does.