BRONX, N.Y.--A funny thing happened at Manhattan College's Draddy Gym a few minutes after 9 p.m. Saturday night: the Harvard men's basketball team showed up for real.
Unfortunately for the Crimson, the hosts had shown up over an hour earlier and built up a 16-point second half lead over a team that played like red-and black-clad imposters.
And although the Harvard youth brigade staged a valiant comeback effort, the Jaspers held on for a closer-than-the-score-indicates 81-69 victory.
Harvard (now 2-4) learned the hard way that 15 minutes of basketball isn't enough to beat any team--even Manhattan, which was 0-5 before Saturday.
"I expected us to play the way we played," Harvard Coach Pete Roby said, citing a recent string of weak Crimson practice sessions.
"We learned a tremendous lesson tonight [about the need for good practices]," he added, "but that lesson won't do any good if it happens again.
"You play like you practice."
Harvard came out flat as the world before Columbus in the game's opening minutes, falling behind 10-4, 20-6, and 28-10 before managing to string four points together.
And while the Jaspers shot 64 percent from the field in the first half to take a 39-27 lead, the Crimson clanged away at 10-for-29.
The hosts scored eight of the second half's first 12 points to build up a 16-point margin--their biggest of the half.
But Manhattan could still be had, and Roby made his move at the 16:32 mark. The first year coach's answer to 29 dollars worth of beads and trinkets: five freshmen and a slap on the butt.
A gasp resounded through the 850 partisan spectators when the frosh quintet of Tedd Evers, Fred Schernecker, Mike Gielin, David Lang and David Wolkoff arose as one from the Harvard bench and moved to the scorer's table.
But that same crowd was silenced over the next three minutes as the Crimson made a 12-3 run. Evers started the festivities with five points in 10 seconds as Manhattan had difficulties in-bounding the ball.
Then it was Schernecker's turn. The 6-ft., 7-in. banger had appeared hapless in Harvard's opening game of the season, commiting four turnovers and three fouls in 11 minutes.
But the Madison, Wis., native has come on strong since then--and Saturday had the best game of any Crimson big man this year.
He followed Evers' run with nine consecutive points of his own, including four off the offensive boards. Overall, Schernecker finished with 18 points (7-for-11 from the floor), three rebounds and no turnovers in a season-high 22 minutes of playing time.
But the Jaspers clung tenaciously to their lead. Both teams scored 42 points in the second half, although Harvard had 23 more field goal attempts.
The most telling statistic was field goal percentage, where Manhattan wasted the Crimson, 60.4 percent to 40.3 percent.
And although Harvard battled back to within five points at one late juncture in the game, and although Gielin tendered his latest entry in the Best Move By A 5-ft., 10-in. Guy Contest on a spectacular, fast-break look-away lay-up, the hosts were too tough in the end.
The Crimson was down, 73-68, with 55 seconds remaining, but a parade of Jasper free throw shooters built the difference up to its final 12 points.
If only the real Harvard men's basketball team will stand up a little earlier next time.
THE NOTEBOOK: Former Harvard Coach Frank McLaughlin, who left Cambridge in September for the job as athletic director at Fordham, and his wife attended the game...Starter Kyle Dodson saw only 17 minutes of playing time and was held scoreless, going 0-for-3 from the floor and 0-for-2 from the foul line...Bill Mohler, the Crimson's starting center, netted only four points, but was perfect in field goals (1-for-1) and free throws.