Head coach Tommy Amaker continues to work to put Harvard men’s basketball on the map. With signature wins like the stunning double-digit victory over the Eagles, Amaker is starting to leave his mark on the program.
Decade-long drought. 10-game winning streak. Star point guard.
Oh, and add to the list the fact that the Harvard men’s basketball team had never won against a ranked opponent since its inception in 1900.
There were a number of reasons why it should not have happened.
But none of those reasons seemed to matter on Jan. 7, when the Crimson bested then-No. 17 Boston College in Chestnut Hill.
Perhaps BC is not the first school brought up when discussion arises on men’s college basketball. The Eagles are not a household name like Duke, nor a decorated squad like UCLA, with scores of banners and retired jerseys hanging from the gymnasium rafters.
But just three days before, the Eagles had crushed one such team. In fact, the top team in the country at the time: North Carolina.
The transitive property does not quite hold true when discussing wins, rankings, and team prowess, but that 85-78 destruction of the future NCAA Division I champs instilled confidence in BC. Led by offensive expert Tyrese Rice, who dropped 25 points on the Tar Heels, the Eagles were impervious in their previous 10 home games and boasted a 13-2 overall record before facing the easy-to-overlook, 7-6 Crimson, which had not beaten BC since before the turn of the millennium.
Harvard embraced the Eagle pride.
“It was the perfect time to play Boston College given what they had just accomplished,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “This was an opportunity if there was ever a time to play them since they were still riding high from that victory. If there’s anything that’s going to happen, this was probably going to be one of those moments.”
At the center of that storm which beset Conte Forum was junior guard Jeremy Lin. Assigned to defend the highly-touted Rice, Lin stole the spotlight for a night. Scoring 27 points, dishing out eight assists to two turnovers and generating six steals, Lin clipped his fair share of feathers, while the All-American Rice contributed a mere 14 points.
Lin’s rampage and Harvard’s shot at winning were not evident from the start. Despite opening with sloppy play and a shot that went off the side of the backboard, BC held a 17-11 advantage with 9:23 left in the first half. From there, Harvard began its steady takeover as the players and fans in gold and maroon looked on in disbelief. The Crimson took the lead with 7:32 to go in the first off of a three. There would not be another lead change.
“The most important thing is that you just have to respect every opponent you play, and when you don’t play, this is what happens,” BC coach Al Skinner said. “It creates a situation where you make yourself very susceptible.”
The visiting team took advantage of that situation throughout the second half—Harvard shot 60.9 percent from the field as the Eagles’ defense stalled out. A Lin steal from Rice set the tone for the rest of the game, prompting a 9-4 Crimson run.
“Start building confidence, that’s the biggest segment of having a win like that,” Amaker said. “Our kids gained tremendous confidence as the game grew on...you could just feel and tell that it was just on our side that night.”
Lin’s supporting cast featured freshman Oliver McNally, who racked up 17 points and went 10-of-11 from the charity line, and captain Andrew Pusar, who put forth a then-season-high 13 points and valuable minutes. Down low, junior forward Doug Miller nabbed a career-high nine rebounds.
BC threatened to make several comebacks throughout the second but ultimately could not successfully sustain the effort. With a minute left and the score at 70-63, Rice seemed to wake up, nailing three consecutive free throws after scoring only three points in the first 36 minutes of play.
With Rice actively scoring, foul shots became crucial for the Crimson in the waning moments of the game, but Harvard remained stalwart and made 10 of 12 free throws in the final minute of the contest.
As the clock ticked down to zero, the reality set in. An underdog Ivy League team had just overturned the high-flying Eagles, and did so in a double digit, 82-70 win. The Crimson topped a ranked team for the first time in its existence.
Drought ended, streak terminated, star player overcome.
“Call it a layover, hangover, whatever phrases you want to use,” Amaker said. “It was not that they lost the game. We won the game.”
—Staff writer Emmett Kistler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.