Just days after an upset at the hands of Fordham, No. 21/22 Harvard men's basketball looked like it might suffer its second embarrassing loss in as many games.
In the Ivy League opener, the Crimson (13-2, 1-0 Ivy) went into halftime up by just one over Dartmouth (3-13, 0-1), the heavy underdog.
And at the start of the second half, the Big Green pushed its lead to as many as seven. For the second straight game, Harvard had trouble finding the basket, and the team was in danger of dropping its first home game since 2010.
But as it has done so many times this year, the Crimson mounted a second-half comeback, this time on the shoulders of co-captain Oliver McNally, to easily defeat Dartmouth, 63-47.
With Harvard down by seven with 16 minutes to play, Big Green freshman Galbas Maldunas missed a layup inside. Junior guard Brandyn Curry picked up the rebound, and McNally hit an open three to pull the Crimson back to within four points.
“I kind of felt the momentum swing when they were up [by seven],” McNally said. “They missed a layup, somewhat contested. Somehow, we got a rebound … and Brandyn hit me for a three. It was a big five-point swing there.”
About three minutes later, McNally hit another three-point shot to narrow Dartmouth’s lead to one, and Harvard took the lead on the next possession on a Curry layup. The Crimson maintained the advantage for the rest of the afternoon.
“[Oliver]’s had a knack for [timely baskets] since he’s been here as a player,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “He’s a kid that’s thrived on pressure moments and big shots.”
After poor shooting against Fordham cost the team its first loss in almost a month, the same problem plagued Harvard in the first half. The Crimson scored only 23 points in the frame.
Junior Kyle Casey led the team in the early minutes of the game, but after scoring Harvard’s first seven, Casey only scored three more in the rest of the game. Casey and co-captain Keith Wright, two of the team’s leading scorers, combined for 20 points on the afternoon.
The team had its share of struggles on the defensive end as well. Dartmouth picked up eight offensive rebounds in the first half, and the Big Green had a possession that lasted almost two minutes at the end of the frame because of two offensive boards and a foul on Wright.
“We’re in a little funk. We’re putting too much pressure on ourselves,” McNally said. “The first half, defensively, you take out a couple of those offensive rebounds, and you only scored 22 points, with a late shot.”
The Crimson had much more success on the glass in the second half, and after Dartmouth’s strong showing in the first, the team did not have any offensive rebounds in the final 20 minutes of the game. Maldunas, who had five offensive and eight total rebounds in the first half, only had one board in the second.
Up by one, Harvard struggled out of the gate in the second half, and an 8-0 run by the Big Green gave the visitors their largest lead of the day.
“They were up against us early in the second half, and that’s where I thought our kids really dug in and got the stops,” Amaker said. “Our pace improved once we were able to get some defensive stops.”
Led by McNally and his pair of scores from behind the arc, the Crimson opened up a 16-2 run that included a pair of three-pointers from sophomore Laurent Rivard, who seemed to find his stroke towards the end of the game after struggling against Fordham and in the first half against Dartmouth.
“Laurent’s threes are big baskets for our team,” Amaker said. “We count on him, and it could have been a relief with all of us to see him bury a few. I think our team can lift tremendously when he’s been that big-shot guy.”
As the home team pulled ahead—Harvard outscored the Big Green in the final 16 minutes, 36-13—the sellout crowd at Lavietes came alive, and the Crimson finished off a Dartmouth squad that wasn't expected to compete.
“Kids seem to bounce back—that’s the beauty of being young,” Amaker said of the team’s attitude after the loss to Fordham. “That’s one thing they can usually teach us in situations like that, to move on.”
—Staff writer E. Benjamin Samuels can be reached at email@example.com.