Keep your fingers crossed. Continue holding your breath. But, it looks real good.
An atmosphere of guarded optimism pervaded Briggs Cage last night after the Harvard men's basketball team thoroughly outclassed Dartmouth, 78-64.
This year is the first one in a long time when analysts believe that Harvard, now 2-0 overall and 1-0 in the Ivies, has a serious shot at the Ivy League title. The Crimson's win in its Ivy opener makes those predictions seem legitimate, and allows the current campaign to begin on a note of confidence.
The Big Green managed to stay in last night's contest until only seven minutes remained, when Harvard was toying with a meager one-point lead. Early in the second half, Dartmouth even erased a 10-point deficit and turned it into a one basket advantage.
But when push came to shove, the Crimson blew away its opponent, as Dartmouth fell flat and ran out of gas. Junior forward Joe Carrabino--who tallied a game high 24 points--and junior guard Bob Ferry--with 18 points, on the evening--led the dramatic surge as they hit from the key and the foul line, collecting ten points between them in a three-minute span late in the game.
With Dartmouth playing its third game in four nights, Harvard Coach Frank McLaughlin intentionally quickened the pace of the battle in an effort to wear down the Big Green. The entire contest took just one hour and twenty minutes to complete.
"We didn't want to call any timeouts, because we knew that they'd be tired out at the end," McLaughlin said. "Later on they couldn't even come out. They just died out there."
Late in the game, the visitors who had little trouble connecting from outside for most of the evening--564 shooting from the field--all of a sudden couldn't even find a basket.
The Harvard offense, meanwhile, had little trouble converting costly turnovers into field goals. The Crimson nailed the lid on the victory with its accuracy at the free throw line when, in desperation, the Big Green fouled any moving thing that it could get its hands on.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Harvard's performance was its new 3-2 defense. Clogging up the inside lane, the Crimson continually forced Dartmouth to shoot from outside. In the first half, the Big Green attempted only two shots from inside the key. The hoopsters from Hanover would have been out of it early had forwards Scott Schroeder (seven-for-10 from the field) and Burke (five-for-six) and center Paul Anderson (nine-for-13) not been able to consistently make good on their rainbows.
But, while the Crimson continues to play tight inside, it leaves the perimeters open to unhurried jumpers. In both last night's game and Saturday's contest with Merrimack, Harvard's opponents shot well over 50 percent from 15 to 20 feet away.
As for that statistic, McLaughlin said. "We have an easy choice of letting the other team shoot from 20 feet or from inside. And, they won't always do that well."
In addition, without much traffic in the lane last night, the Crimson was able to cut down on its number of team fouls. In neither half did Harvard even approach the limit of seven fouls. Dartmouth's defense was much less organized, as the Crimson went to the foul line 29 times compared to the Big Green's two.
The depth of Harvard's lineup also contributed to its victory. While the Dartmouth starters played virtually the entire contest, fatigued towards the end of it. Harvard's top five appeared fresh and able to capitalize on mistakes.
It's easy to give the game to the big guns like Carrabino and Ferry, according to McLaughin, but without backup players like junior guard Kevin Boyle and forward Arne Duncan the starters wouldn't have been able to perform so well down the stretch.
"The depth of this team is encouraging," McLaughlin remarked.
And with the return of Carrabino, who rode the bench for much of last season with a back injury, Harvard has been able to diversify its offensive game. The 6-ft., 9-in. power forward has the rare ability to use his graceful jumper to make the long connection and also to get deep inside the key for the layups.
Last night Harvard enjoyed an equal balance between under-the-basket attempts and outside shots. The Crimson sunk the ball at a healthy .519 clip, far better than last year, when Harvard shot mostly from the perimeters.
"The coach wants me to get inside to take the pressure off the outside shooters," Carrabino explained later.
THE NOTEBOOK: With bandages on his right arm and leg, senior forward Monroe Trout returned to part time action last night. Harvard will play this year with black patches on its jerseys in memory of John Harnice, a team member who died last summer.