Tenacious D: Rahul and Dan's Not-So-Excellent Adventure
NEW HAVEN, Conn.--Whenever my esteemed basketball colleague, Rahul "The Ra-hooligan" Rohatgi, and I have covered Harvard men's basketball games together, they've always been memorable.
The last-second, near-upset of Penn last year, the upset of Penn this year, Princeton's buzzer-beater last weekend, Pat Harvey's own buzzer-beater against Hartford, the Dartmouth-Montreal road trip. Harvard hasn't always won these games, but they've always been classic in scope and fun to watch.
So, when Rahul and I headed down to Brown and Yale this weekend, we understandably expected big things. Fresh off an amazing weekend of basketball against Penn and Princeton, Harvard still had a legitimate shot at the Ivy title, was playing at top form, and would be facing Brown (who the Crimson had given a thorough 22-point spanking last month) and Yale (who had narrowly edged the Crimson in overtime).
Little did we know that this weekend would be different. Little did we know that in the coming days the Ivy League would be shaken up without Harvard on top. Little did we know that the Crimson's season would come to a disappointingly early end.
Striding into Brown's Pizzitola Sports Center in Providence on Friday night, Rahul and I were confident of a win. We figured that Earl Hunt would be as contained as he had been at Lavietes and that the Harvard team we had followed all season would show up to put the game away.
Boy, were we wrong.
Instead of the stifling defense we had been used to all season, Harvard was unable to slow the Bears attack. Brown guard Omari Ware exploded for seven straight points and the Bears jumped out to a quick 12-2 lead. Adding to Harvard's early sieve-like defense, the Crimson fouled with reckless abandon.
"We just couldn't guard without fouling," said Harvard Coach Frank Sullivan. "Overall, our team defense and rebounding was ineffective."
The Crimson ended the first half with 12 personal fouls and added 20 more in the second half to finish with 32 for the game. To put that number in perspective, Harvard only had 38 rebounds and Brown only had 18 personal fouls for the entire game.
More frustrating than the silly fouls and the rebounding ineptitude was the Crimson's inability to regain the lead after falling behind early. Harvard pulled within a basket of tying or taking the lead seven times after the initial 12-2 deficit. After each and every Harvard run, the Bears were able to pull away. Suffice it to say, Harvard never had the lead at any point in the game.
After the game, I realized another disappointing statistic. For the first time all season, the Crimson had lost back-to-back games. This is noteworthy because the team had particular pride in keeping the streak intact and was the best such run since the 1945-46 Crimson squad that went to the NCAA Tournament.
"The players are a bit deflated that it happened tonight," Sullivan said. "But in the context of our program, the streak is very commendable."
So, as dejected as the team, Rahul and I were driven back to Cambridge that night by our crack sports photographer Jonelle Lonergan. Surely, I thought, Harvard would win at Yale and regain momentum heading into the final stretch of the Ivy season. After some merriment and ill-advised emails, I slept soundly before our next trip.
On the train ride to Yale, Rahul and I discussed what had happened the night before and were still perplexed.
Saturday night, still perplexed, Rahul and I went to Subway to have a quick pre-game meal.
While I was telling the guy behind the counter what I wanted on my sandwich, some woman ran in screaming about about some guy who was choking her friend. The man behind the counter ran out of the store to confront the assailant while his assistant called the police. As we ate our subs, the police arrived and interviewed the Subway workers.
Ah, New Haven.
Despite this weird omen, Rahul and I were reasonably confident that Harvard could win that night. As it turned out, though, Harvard was the primary choking suspect of the evening.
The Crimson shot a horrible 32 percent from the field and an atrocious 15 percent from behind the arc, as Harvard fell to Yale for the second time this year. Captain Dan Clemente, Harvard's leading scorer, could only muster 13 points, and sophomore guard Pat Harvey--who is usually very productive offensively--finished the game with four points.
Yale, meanwhile, played with precision and poise. The Elis once again finished with a positive assist-to-turnover ratio, and shot 46 percent from the field and 40 percent from beyond the arc. Captain Neil Yanke paced Yale with 18 points and eight rebounds.
Although Harvard's defense was markedly better in this game, the Crimson still could not generate transition points off turnovers. Ultimately, the better team won and sadly that team happened to be Yale.
"The main thing we'll take from this weekend is huge disappointment," Sullivan said. "We just have to rally the next couple of weekends."
Unfortunately for Harvard, the next couple of weekends will be largely inconsequential because of this past weekend's collapse.
With five Ivy losses, the Crimson are realistically out of the Ivy title picture, although one never knows what other random thngs may happen in this now turbulent league. For instance, Columbia became the first team since 1989 to sweep Penn and Princeton in a weekend. That, combined with Yale's two victories, pulls the Elis into a tie for first.
A Yale bid in the NCAA Tournament? Weirder things have happened.
And sadly for me and Rahul, our long and illustrious streak of jointly covering exciting games is now over. Both of Harvard's pathetic games this weekend made sure to end that long-standing tradition.
Maybe I should find another sport to cover now. Or maybe I just need to find a new partner.