Briggs Athletic Center played host to prime time last night, as the nationally-ranked Duke Blue Devils brought their men's basketball show to Cambridge for the first time in three years.
A record sell-out crowd of 3000 fans jammed Briggs to watch Duke clinch its fourth consecutive 20-win season by powering past the Crimson, 98-86.
Harvard (now 8-11) was simply out-matched by a bigger and more talented Duke squad, which led by as many as 24 points midway through the second half.
Most of the big names of Duke basketball--the ones that helped lead the Blue Devils to the finals of the NCAA tournament last year---were there. But it was a 7-ft., 2-in., 260-lb. senior reserve named Martin Nessley who stole the show.
Nessley, who entered the contest averaging 4.3 points per game, came off the bench to score a game-high 25 points, including consecutive slam dunks in the final minute-and-a-half of play.
Nessley also grabbed a game-high eight rebounds in 21 minutes in leading Duke (now 20-4) to its fifth straight victory over Harvard.
"I've got no complaints about tonight," Harvard Coach Pete Roby said. "We wanted to use this game as a springboard for the rest of the season, and I think we'll be able to."
Co-Captain Arne Duncan paced the Crimson with 20 points, but Harvard was severely hampered when Klye Dodson and Bill Mohler, two of the Crimson's best inside players, got into foul trouble early in the second half.
Dodson--who came off the bench to score 14 points and grab five rebounds in 12 minutes--fouled out just three minutes and 50 seconds into the second frame.
"That was one of the dumbest things I've ever done," Dodson said.
Dodson's early exit was subsequently duplicated by junior Mohler, the team's center, who fouled out just 38 seconds later after only 14 minutes of playing time.
Harvard's tallest starter, Mohler had one of his finest outings of the season, scoring six points, grabbing five rebounds, blocking two shots and doing a lot of the dirty work in the paint.
Despite the absence of Dodson and Mohler, the Crimson did an admirable job containing Duke's big men, holding the Blue Devils' leading scorer, Danny Ferry, to 15 points.
All In the Family
Ferry--the younger brother of Harvard's third all-time leading scorer Bob Ferry--played a fine all-around game nonetheless, grabbing seven rebounds and handing out a team-high seven assists. He also netted 15 points.
Early on, the game looked like it would be a blow-out. On the opening possession, Duke forward John Smith drove through the Crimson paint for a thunderous slam.
But Harvard answered Smith's dunk, taking its only lead of the evening when Duncan (six-for-13 from the field, five-for-six from the line) drew a foul while sinking a lay-up and then completed a three-point play.
The Blue Devils--on the strength of 56 percent first-half field goal shooting--embarked on a 33-14 run, however, to take a commanding 56-36 halftime advantage.
Harvard, which shot a dreadful 39 percent form the floor for the game, received a spark from the play of sophomore forward Tedd Evers, who scored 13 of his career-high 17 points in the second half.
"[Harvard] is a team that keeps the pressure on you offensively," Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said." If you have a mental breakdown, for even 30 seconds, you're in trouble. They ran their system tonight, and that’s a credit to them."
"They play an exciting brand of basketball here," Krzyzewski continued. "These kids had the game of their season tonight, and we like when a team comes after us like that."