WORCESTER, Mass.—For the second consecutive game, the Harvard men’s basketball team battled back from an early double-digit deficit to take a lead with under four minutes to play and put itself in a position to pick up an impressive nonconference win.
And for the second consecutive time, the inexperienced Crimson couldn’t manage to put its opponent away down the stretch as it ended up falling 67-59 at Holy Cross last night.
Harvard (0-2) tied the score at 58 with 2:20 left on a layup by junior captain Jason Norman off a long inbounds pass from sophomore forward Matt Stehle, but couldn’t find a way to manufacture any offense down the stretch as the Crusaders (2-0) pulled away for the victory.
The Crimson had started coming unglued when Holy Cross began to press the Harvard back court after tying the score at 54 with a pair of free throws with 3:24 to play.
“They surprised us with more aggressive pressure at a couple points in time,” Harvard coach Frank Sullivan said. “That’s just something it’s logical to do with an inexperienced team.”
Sophomore guard Michael Beal—playing out of position this season as the Crimson’s primary ball handler—found himself out of options in the corner and committed an offensive foul trying to break free.
“It kind of caught me out of nowhere,” Beal said. “We’re used to getting trapped in the corner, but a lot of times wherever we would get it, they would just come with two people and we were thinking about the press coming from a different place and so we were set up for a different type of press.”
“They had their hands flailing like nothing we’d seen in practice, nothing we’d seen all year,” Beal added. “It just took a lot to get used to that and unfortunately I didn’t deal with it too well. We didn’t deal with it too well.”
After a jumper and a pair of free throws put the Crusaders ahead by four, the Holy Cross press tied Beal up. But the possession arrow gave the ball back to Harvard, which retied the score on two free throws from junior guard Kevin Rogus and Norman’s layup over the press.
Harvard had taken its only lead of the game when Beal took a charge and Stehle converted a fallaway off the glass from a tough angle in the block with 5:05 remaining after he tied it with his left hand 45 seconds earlier.
Stehle’s buckets punctuated a stretch in which the Crimson relied on a 1-2-2 zone to shut down the Crusaders’ penetration and hold them without a field goal for 9:03.
“A lot of their offense was coming off of drive-and-pitch, [preseason Patriot League Player of the Year point guard Jave] Meade getting into the paint and drawing our help defense and then kicking out to shooters on the wings,” Beal said. “We went into a 1-2-2 zone to try to shut down the driving lines. When we did that, they stopped being able to get into the paint and we were able to close out their shooters a lot quicker.”
“In our league, every team is a great three-point shooting team, so we were closing out to them like they were Princeton, like they were Penn or Yale and they were just driving by us,” Beal added. “We decided to give them a little bit more space.”
Meanwhile, Harvard reeled off 12 points to complete the comeback from a 14-point first-half deficit that it began with a 9-0 run late in the first half.
Two of Stehle’s three blocks came during the second-half run.
For the second consecutive game, the 6’4 Beal led the Crimson in rebounding. Rogus was second with five boards to go along with his game-high 16 points, while freshman guard Jim Goffredo and Stehle added 11 and 10 points, respectively.
The battle-tested Crusaders, who have won the Patriot League and gone to the NCAA Tournament in each of the past three seasons and scared Marquette—which eventually reached the Final Four—before falling 72-68 in the first round of last year’s tournament, shot 13-of-15 from the free-throw line in the second half.
Harvard also had a chance to beat Fairfield, which went to the National Invitation Tournament last year, before falling 65-60 on Friday.
“We’re right there, and that’s the most disappointing part,” Beal said. “We’re good enough and we’re right there. We should be winning both these games—Fairfield and this game—and it’s just our youth and not knowing how to finish it out, not knowing how to really close it out and make the big plays that we need at the end. That’s just something that we’re going to have to learn over time.”
—Staff writer Alan G. Ginsberg can be reached at email@example.com.