At least for one game, the Harvard men’s basketball team would have been well served to summon the spirit of its dreadful 2003-04 season.
Despite going 4-23 overall and 3-11 in the Ivy League during that campaign—the school’s worst in over 50 years—the Crimson managed to pull off a spirited upset of Yale at home to snap a six game losing streak, the highlight of an otherwise mostly dismal year.
Two years and four days later, on Saturday night at Lavietes Pavilion, there would be no reenactment of that streak-snapping victory. Instead of serving as a high point, the team’s 77-66 loss to the Bulldogs—Harvard’s fifth straight loss and fourth in a row at home—marked the nadir of its season.
While Yale coach James Jones and his players hung around the court after the game, soaking in their first win at Lavietes in three years and first road victory of the league season, the dejected members of the Crimson remained in their locker room following the latest installment in a continuing series of disappointments. In a telling sign of the team’s dejection, the players were explicitly unavailable for comment for the first time this season at home.
“For us just a discouraging weekend, and a discouraging follow-up to a difficult game last night,” coach Frank Sullivan said. “Yale bounced back from their adversity [a loss at Dartmouth on Friday night] a little bit better than we did.”
After beginning the year 8-3, the Crimson has now lost eight of its last 11 games to fall out of contention in the Ivy League title hunt and put in jeopardy its goal of achieving a winning season for the first time in four years.
Following a defensive breakdown Friday night against Brown, which shot 55 percent and scored 43 points in the paint in its 79-66 victory, the Crimson was again dismantled inside by Yale. Harvard was unable to contain Bulldogs center Dominick Martin, who poured in a career-high 26 points, the majority of which came on lay-ups or short jump shots. Entering the weekend shooting .569 from the floor, Martin connected on 12 of his 18 attempts.
“Our defense both nights, and especially tonight, was very soft near the rim area,” Sullivan said. “When we get back to trying to correct what we’ve got to work on for the next two weeks, one of them is getting tougher around the basket.”
Yale’s perimeter players, chiefly point guard Eric Flato, were able to continually penetrate past Harvard’s initial line of defense to enter the paint. Senior center Brian Cusworth, charged with guarding Martin, was often forced to rotate on defense, leaving his assignment open around the basket.
“We penetrated from the perimeter pretty well, and Cusworth had to come over and help on our guards,” said Flato, who also contributed 19 points, including four crucial three-pointers. “I think it all generates from the perimeter.”
“[Martin is] a big part of what we do, our offensive design, to get the ball inside to him,” Jones added. “I think Dominick is one of the most dominant players in the league.”
Martin’s performance negated the noteworthy offensive effort of Cusworth, who scored a career-high 24 points on 9-of-19 shooting. Cusworth’s strong play could not compensate for the multitude of easy buckets Yale generated, especially with frustrated captain Matt Stehle uncharacteristically struggling to impact the game. Shooting from the outside much more than normal, the senior forward scored a season-low six points on 1-of-11 from the field.
Yale entered the game with a 5-0 record at home against Ivy foes and a 0-4 mark away from the raucous confines of the John J. Lee Amphitheater. That split has been a consistent weakness of Yale teams through the years, leading to speculation that the Bulldogs were due for a fall in the standings once their number of road league games equaled out their home contests.
“A lot’s been talked about that, and we’ve lost for a number of different reasons,” Jones said. “I think we’re the same team [home and away]. Obviously when we’re home we get a little bit more energy from the crowd, but it’s nice to get the monkey off your back and finally get one.”
Harvard is one of the five Ivy teams that went down to Yale in New Haven so far this year. Last month’s bitter 82-74 Crimson defeat seemed to hinge as much on the emotions generated by the Yale crowd’s rancorous baiting of Harvard’s players as on any other factor.
Lavietes Pavilion did not offer the same home-court advantage as John J. Lee, however, leading to more of a comfort zone for Yale’s players.
“The reason why we have such a good home record is because of our fans,” Flato said. “It’s a lot easier when you don’t have people yelling at you every time you touch the ball, and stuff like that. I think that eases the game for our players, to play at a place where the fans aren’t yelling and aren’t so active.”
—Staff writer Caleb W. Peiffer can be reached at email@example.com.