What should be the best basketball team ever to play at Harvard came back from Philadelphia Saturday night with a pair of weekend losses at Princeton and Pennsylvania, a 6-7 record, and undisputed possession of the Ivy League cellar. If you are unable to figure out what the hell is going on, you're not alone in your confusion.
Ironically, the four evil dudes that Harvard was basically concerned with last weekend turned out to be somewhat less terrifying than the Crimson had originally anticipated. It was Harvard's shocking offensive ineptness, and a ballhandling magician from Boston named Reginald Bird that sent the Crimson home emptyhanded from the yearly back-to-back crushers for the fourth consecutive winter.
Brian Taylor and Ted Manakas were the men that posed the threat Friday night at Princeton, where a Harvard team had not won since 1958. Taylor, coach Bob Harrison had figured, was going to get his usual quota of 25 to 30 points no matter what you did to him. What he wanted his men to do was to shut off Manakas, forward Al Dufty and Center Andy Rimol by playing a sagging man-to-man defense and using their superior height to control the boards.
Although Taylor pocketed his 28 points, and Dufty tallied 14, the Crimson defense performed as expected. It held the normally hot-shooting Tigers to 34 per cent from the floor in the opening half, outrebounded Princeton 29-19, over the first 20 minutes, and rendered Manakas and Rimol virtually ineffective. Manakas, usually a flawless ballhandler, turned over the ball five times and only scored six points.
But instead of leaving the court at Jadwin Gymnasium with a 15-point lead after the first half, Harvard was barely ahead, 35-31. Guard Jim Fitzsimmons, who has carried the Crimson all winter, had scored 17 of its points, including 11 in a six-minute span that brought Harvard from an 11-7 deficit to a 17-14 lead.
Harvard became more accurate in the second half, sinking 45 per cent of its attempts, but the complexion of the game had changed entirely. The Tigers, who have yet to lose at home this winter, were deadly from the floor, shooting 70 per cent. Taylor, after scoring only ten points in the first half, began driving on the Crimson with incredible success. With 2:20 elapsed in the third quarter, the Tigers had pulled even, 40-40, and their pressing tactics on defense were rattling the Crimson attack.
Additionally, Harvard was being forced to spread its defense, giving Princeton numerous opportunities to do destructive work inside. Within three minutes, Taylor, Bird, John Berger and Dufty had put in easy layups, and Princeton led 50-45. When the score stood at 57-52 with 11:50 remaining, and Dufty, Berger and Rimol were all one foul away from disqualification. Tiger coach Pete Carril went to Bird, his ballhandler, and Harvard was done.
The 6-1 senior guard pulled out his best Harlem Magicians tricks, and with the help of Manakas, froze the ball for two and a half minutes before Taylor put in an easy layup. After Harvard's James Brown hit a soft jumper. Bird stalled again, holding the ball for a minute, and sending Taylor inside, where he drew a foul. Princeton stalled again half a minute later, using up a minute and a half this time. Dufty drew a foul, and it was 65-54.
With the final minutes ticking away, Fitzsimmons began hitting magically, scoring eight points in less than two minutes to bring Harvard back to within five points with 1:04 remaining. Princeton held on, and it was 74-67 at the buzzer.
More of the Same
Things changed little at the Palestra a night later. Fitzsimmons carried Harvard to early 7-0 and 11-3 leads over the defending Ivy champion Quakers, and despite a second quarter Penn rally, the Crimson still led 28-23. Then the roof collapsed. Harvard went seven minutes without a field goal, and Penn led at halftime, 35-31.
The team shot 25 per cent from the floor over the final 20 minutes. Fitzsimmons, who had never scored less than 20 points in a Harvard uniform, was the Crimson's high scorer with 12. The final score was 81-52. It was that kind of night, and that kind of weekend for Harvard.
Second Half Lag
"We just stopped doing things in the second half," Harrison said. "We could have blown the game open in the first half, or at least gone off the floor with a lead. We're not hitting, and we're not getting an awful lot out of the bench, either."
Dartmouth, who played Princeton and Penn on opposite nights, also came away with a pair of defeats, lessening Harvard's chances of a shot at the title even more. To win it, the Crimson must defeat Penn and Princeton when they play here next month. Dartmouth must do the same at Hanover, and the Tigers and Quakers themselves must split. It is almost too much to hope for.
Carril, despite Harvard's poor first half, felt that the Crimson was the second best team Princeton had faced all year--even better than Kentucky or Villanova. He may have been exaggerating somewhat, but Harvard is still a talented team. They just have to play like one.