The little engine of Harvard men's basketball chugged its way towards the summit of Victory Hill on Saturday afternoon, but only got as far as the fourth floor of the IAB, where the hoopsters fell to UMass, 75-73.
For the third straight game on the Crimson's current four-game losing streak--the longest since the 1979-80 season--Harvard failed to sustain an impressive late comeback drive, squandering several chances to put the game away after recovering from a several point deficit early in the second half.
In spite of the loss, the Crimson appeared in control for much of the contest, turning in one of its strongest performances of this still-young season. "I felt the whole time that we were going to win, up until the final buzzer," Harvard forward Monroe Trout said after the game.
Crimson coach Frank McLaughlin--who, in spite of a ruptured disc in his back, gyrated impressively along the sideline all game--was dissatisfied with the defeat but not overly critical of his squad. "I think other teams have been playing well against us," McLaughlin said, nothing that the Minutemen shot 57 per cent against Crimson defense. "Each game we're improving on certain phases. It's a tough thing, as a coach you want to say we're playing badly and losing, but we're not."
As in the second half of last week's Holy Cross game, the Crimson managed to get the ball inside to Donald Fleming (29 points), and Joe Carrabino (16), often enough to stay close--or ahead--throughout the contest.
In the Street
With reserve swingman Craig Smith keeping the Minutemen hot with 26 points--on a sweet combination of medium range jumpers and soft, floating drives--the lead changed hands 11 times. The largest lead by either team was just seven points, when, UMass led, 44-37, with about 15 minutes left.
From that point, the UMass advantage ranged from three to five points until the Crimson finally took a short-lived lead, at 66-65, with four minutes to go. During that stretch, a violently stamping McLaughlin--perhaps a bit more emotional than usual because his brother Tom was coaching the UMass team--picked up a crucial bench technical while protesting the failure of the officials to call what he termed a clear charge.
Trailing, 57-56, before the foul, Harvard was down by five at the end of the four-point play--which consisted of the disputed bucket and two technical free throws--with seven minutes left.
The Crimson played an intense, hustling three-quarter-court press--which collapsed into a variety of zones at the UMass end of the court--to make up the difference, finally going ahead, 66-65, on a Calvin Dixon to Joe Carrabino fast break.
After Smith split the Harvard zone with an 18-ft. jumper, two missed foul shots by Fleming and a three-point play by Minutemen forward Horace Neysmith put UMass up by four, 70-66, with two minutes to go. A late Harvard surge fell short, and the Crimson suffered its fourth straight defeat.
"We're sort of snake-bit at this point," McLaughlin said. "We'll have to hang in there. Things will start going our way sooner or later."