Live by the sword, die by the sword.
After three straight wins in which all-around team efforts led the Crimson to victory, last night’s 51-41 loss to B.U. showed what happens when every member of a team plays poorly, together.
Let’s start with free throws. Before last night’s game, Harvard was shooting 64 percent from the charity stripe—a low number, but not horrible. Take away junior guard Pat Harvey’s 28-of-32 free throw percentage, however, and the rest of the Crimson are shooting 50 percent from the line.
Harvard was absolutely frustrated on the free throw line against B.U. Harvey never got to the stripe, and the team finished 3-of-12 (25 percent) on the night. Senior center Tim Coleman, who otherwise had a good night, made only one of six attempts, including missing his last five in a row when the Crimson were within striking distance of the Terriers. Captain Drew Gellert also made only one free throw out of four tries, and airballed an attemps for the second straight game.
It didn’t help that B.U. made 16-of-17 of its attempts.
“This is probably one of the poorest free-throw shooting starts we’ve had,” Harvard Coach Frank Sullivan said.
The good news for Harvard is that last night’s game will probably be the nadir for free-throw shooting. By the time the Ivy season rolls around Sullivan will have made sure his charges can hit the all-important 15-footer.
If Harvard couldn’t shoot while standing still, it didn’t fare much better squared up. The 41-point output was Harvard’s lowest offensive total since 1993, when the team lost 63-39 to Princeton. While the Terriers’ press and box-and-one defense gave Crimson shooters problems, they were still able to put up 60 shots.
Only 16 went in.
Two numbers in particular—the Crimson’s 9.5 percent 3-point shooting in the second half, and 18.9 percent overall shooting in that frame—stick out like obscenities on the scoring sheet, begging to be bleeped out.
“We had nobody with any kind of success put any kind of ball in the basket,” Sullivan said.
The three-point shot, usually a Harvard asset, became a huge liability yesterday. B.U.’s defensive strategy meant that the Crimson did get open looks from beyond the arc. But the Terriers also made sure Harvey, the Crimson’s top long-distance shooter, only got two open looks in the second half, both of which he missed.
It was up to the rest of the squad to make up the difference, and the shots just weren’t falling. B.U. Coach Dennis Wolff instructed his players to let Gellert see the open three, and it worked because Gellert missed all five of his attempts from behind the arc. Junior point guard Elliott Prasse-Freeman, the team’s second-best shooter who had a solid game last weekend against Stony Brook, only hit two of his ten long-range shots, while backup guard Brady Merchant missed all seven that he tried.
Those three-point woes were compounded by the fact that more than half of all Harvard’s shot attempts were three-pointers. Overall, the Crimson only made six of 35 3-pointers, or 17 percent.
Finally, Tuesday’s game showed that the Crimson, despite a 4-1 record, had yet to shake off the turnover problem that seems to be plaguing them early in the season.
“Turnovers are just killing us,” Gellert said.
Well put. Through Harvard’s first five games, the Crimson committed 93 turnovers to only 66 assists, or a 2:3 ratio. Prasse-Freeman—who ordinarily hovers around a 1.5:1 or 2:1 assist-turnover ratio—turned the ball over nine times against B.U., while the team as a whole made nine assists but committed 21 turnovers.
Yesterday was clearly a low point for Harvard, and it’s obvious that everyone on the team knows what they have to fix. Defense and rebounding have been excellent, and mental toughness is a quality each player has displayed so far this season. But it has been four straight halves that the Crimson’s shot under 40 percent.
That’s not a sword you want dropping on your head.