Life of Brian: M. Hoops Rally Misses the Point

Web Update: 12/22/02

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass.—Senior point guard Elliott Prasse-Freeman has been waiting to experience March Madness for four years. On Sunday, he missed out on the closest thing to it so far.

Prasse-Freeman was banished to the bench for the most thrilling moments of what will probably be the Crimson’s most exhilarating loss of the season, an 84-77 setback to Boston College at Conte Forum.

With 5:20 left in regulation, he was whistled for a foul on Eagles’ All-American guard Troy Bell—his fifth of the game—and that ended his day. Harvard coach Frank Sullivan subbed in sophomore Jason Norman and Prasse-Freeman, an incredulous grin on his face, stood in front of the Harvard bench gazing at the scoreboard.

“Sit down, 15, you ain’t coming back in,” yelped one of the two BC fans that filled out the depleted ranks of the student section. Maybe Prasse-Freeman heard the catcall—the gym, only half-filled, was that quiet. Silent enough, in fact, to cause Sullivan to remark to his team during a timeout, “the atmosphere’s dead around here.”

Maybe Prasse-Freeman wouldn’t be missing much. Harvard was trailing by nine in the game and had not challenged much in the second half. The Crimson was never expected to win this one anyway.

Except, all of a sudden, things got interesting.

Without Prasse-Freeman, Harvard turned out of necessity to Patrick Harvey, the Crimson’s shooting guard and default backup at the point, to run the floor. The senior was up to the task, hitting four straight free throws to open Harvard’s scoring in the final five minutes. Moments later, he fed captain Brady Merchant for a baseline three-pointer at the 3:30 mark that trimmed BC’s lead to a one-possession margin for the first time since the first half.

After a pair of free throws by Bell, Harvey led the Crimson back down the floor. He missed a three, but after senior center Brian Sigafoos tapped the rebound back to him, Harvey found Norman, who spotted up and drained a three-pointer from the left wing. That moved Harvard within two, 75-73, and the Crimson bench let out a collective yell as the players leaped out of their chairs.

“Huge,” Merchant said. “That was a huge shot.”

Sullivan swore after the game that he was having no flashbacks to the 1998 season, when Harvard stole a win at BC on a Mike Beam ’99 buzzer-beater three. (“Nah,” the coach shrugged when asked after the game. “Honestly, no. Uh… no. I mean, no. No.”).

Fair enough. Still, this might’ve been why BC hadn’t scheduled a rematch until now. Norman’s basket capped a 12-3 Harvard run. Sullivan, who would mouth platitudes about a perceived lack of respect after the game, was feverishly drawing up plays during timeouts. BC coach Al Skinner was subbing his best players back into the game. And the crowd was finally taking notice, urged on by the Jumbotron to make noise that approached “wicked loud” decibels.

It sort of had the feel of March Madness. In December.

“I think the exact words that went through my head were, ‘We’re right there. We’re there,’” Merchant said about his mindset at the time. “[Norman’s three] is the kind of shot you have to have in a game like this.”

Most impressive of all, the Crimson was making its run without its true point guard. Like a lot of Harvard players Sunday, Prasse-Freeman got into foul trouble early. Less than six minutes into the game, he had already been charged with two.

At that point in first half, sophomore Kevin Rogus came up off the bench to spell him. That allowed Sullivan to move Harvey to the point and still have a bona fide outside shooter off the ball. The sophomore made the most of his minutes, hitting on consecutive rainbow treys. Harvey assisted on both.

But that lineup only worked for so long. At another point, when both Prasse-Freeman and Harvey were out, Sullivan had Merchant try bringing the ball up the floor. Seconds later, he got crossed up on a pass intended for Norman, as the sophomore cutted right when Merchant wanted to deliver him the ball. The captain’s bounce pass flitted out of bounds and Prasse-Freeman reentered the game immediately.