WORCESTER, Mass.—Holy Cross guard Torey Thomas darted down the lane, contorting his body to fit between a pair of Harvard big men before scooping the ball up and in over his right shoulder to give the Crusaders a 50-42 lead with 12:22 remaining in the second half.
The Crimson wouldn’t surrender another field goal until just 3:19 showed on the clock—nine minutes and three seconds later.
With its quick, man-to-man perimeter defense designed to shut down sharp-shooting Ivy opponents being exploited by Holy Cross’ slashing guards, Harvard fell back into a 1-2-2 zone, surrendering less tightly guarded outside shots in favor of defending the paint.
“A lot of their offense was coming off the drive and pitch,” guard Michael Beal said. “We went into a 1-2-2 zone to try to shut down the driving lanes. When we did that, they stopped being able to get into the paint and we were able to close out to their shooters a lot quicker.”
The change in alignment worked to perfection, not only providing more formidable challenges to previously uncontested layups, but encouraging the Crusaders to launch several less reliable long-range shots—none of which they converted.
During the stretch, Holy Cross missed all five of its layups and 10 jumpers—six of them treys.With less space in which to reliably maneuver in the second half, the Crusaders’ field-goal percentage plummeted to 27.3 percent, down from 52.0 in the first period.
While Holy Cross floundered, scoring just four points courtesy of free throws to keep itself afloat, the Crimson whittled away at its deficit. Down eight when the lock down began, Harvard took its first lead of the game—a two-point edge—with 5:05 to go, only to give it back when John Hurley netted two from the charity stripe and a runner high off the glass to end the drought.
For the second consecutive game, the Crimson struggled to maintain a definitive advantage clearing the defensive glass, allowing the Crusaders to pull down 18 offensive rebounds. Harvard gathered just 22 boards at its own end.
“The thing that probably hurt us the most was our inability to really control the defensive boards,” Harvard coach Frank Sullivan said. “That’s what happens. We only got about 50 percent of the defensive boards.”
Holy Cross capitalized on the additional chances, tacking on 12 points on put-backs.
The deficiency came despite the Crimson’s switch from man-to-man to the zone defense.
“That should really help us because it’s predicated on always having two guys on the weak side,” Sullivan said. “I think that when we’re playing those positions in the zone that our defensive rebounding is actually improved. But overall, especially on the road, we need to come out with 70 percent of the defensive boards, take away these extra possessions.”
The three members of the Crimson starting front court grabbed just five boards on the defensive end, while the Crusaders’ two-man front court corralled five offensive rebounds. Holy Cross reserve Josh Kramer picked up four by himself, causing additional trouble down low.
As against Fairfield on Friday, Beal led the team, tallying seven boards. His opposite number, Jave Meade, led the charge for the Crusaders with eight.
After staying out of foul trouble for most of the first half, Harvard immediately worked its way into difficulty in the second.
Whistled for six infractions in the first 4:25, the Crimson backed away from the aggressive attempts to draw player control fouls it had utilized in the first half.
Three of the six were the result of blocking calls in a span of just 42 seconds, with juniors captain Jason Norman and guard Kevin Rogus responsible for two each.
“That first time out, everyone was talking about how you’ve got to stop this,” Sullivan said. “We couldn’t let the game continue in the single bonus or the double bonus. We did a good job with that. We got our wheels a little bit and relaxed.”
Though the threat of the free throws loomed large, Harvard managed to go the next 6:06 without drawing a foul while surrendering just eight points.
The last three of the Crimson’s early second-half fouls were blocking calls that came when Harvard was trying to draw a charge. All three came within 50 seconds.
“The charge factor has the bonus of getting us to the line, getting the opponents in foul trouble, getting us more possessions, so it’s something we’ve been emphasizing,” Sullivan said. “I think tonight guys were really ready to do that. Then, they were worried about how the game was being called, what was going to be a charge, what wasn’t going to be a charge. That’s the thing about the charge. It’s the highest judgment call in the game, so you never know. I think our guys have done an excellent job sacrificing their bodies to try get us extra possessions.”
Prior to the run of blocking calls, Harvard had drawn six player control fouls against the Crusaders.
—Staff writer Timothy J. McGinn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.