Early in the second half of last Tuesday's Harvard-Northeastern basketball game, Huskie Dave Leitao--putting the finishing touch on a Northeastern fast break--received a pass deep in the lane, took one giant step toward the basket, and delicately laid the ball through the hoop.
The two-pointer put the Huskies up by 17, 44-27, and marked one of the low points of a season generally notable for its lack of disappointments.
The game was being played in the IAB, and this season, the Crimson has rarely been embarrassed in that archaic structure. Northeastern eventually won the contest, 72-67, but not before the Crimson put some heavy pressure on New England's third-ranked team.
With 5:20 left in the game, swingman Donald Fleming fed Joe Carrabino with a beautiful pass inside, and the freshman standout pushed the ball off the glass and through the basket, closing the gap to 59-57.
The comeback--although ultimately unsuccessful--indicates some good things about this squad, points which have been evident all season against somewhat lesser competition. The loss itself, along with embarrassing defeats at Penn and Princeton last weekend, illustrates a potentially crucial dichotomy between the team's play at home and on the road.
Co-captain Mark Harris looked at the Northeastern game from a hopeful perspective. "We played well in the second half, and that's what's important," he said. "This game didn't mean anything in the league. All we need is to get our confidence back. If we play against Columbia and Cornell like we did in the second half, we'll win."
Harris' comment shows the team's justified confidence in their play at home. Prior to the loss to Northeastern, the Crimson had won nine in a row in the IAB, and so far this season, has triumphed in 11 of 14 home games.
The flip side of that shiny coin, however, is the team's play on the road. Of five games so far this year, the Crimson has won just two, barely beating UMass early in the season, and blowing out Dartmouth earlier this month. The losses were a surprise defeat courtesy of Catholic University, and last weekend's twin debacles in Philadelphia and New Jersey. "The really good teams win on the road," Crimson coach Frank McLaughlin said yesterday, adding, "Penn and Princeton win on the road. That's the difference between them and us right now."
McLaughlin went right to the source of the Crimson's troubles on the road, saying, "We shoot well at home, but we don't on the road." One gets a sense, however, that other troubles plague the squad. Against Penn, Princeton, and even at home against Northeastern, the Crimson failed to play as they had during the long, eight-game win streak. Much of the problem may be traced to the special conditions of playing on the road, particularly against the two best squads in the Ivy League.
With a young, inexperienced--although very talented--squad, a trip down to the Palestra in Philadelphia and Princeton's Jadwin Gym can be harrowing indeed. "We wanted to take the crowd out of it as a factor," McLaughlin said after the Penn game, but as forward George White said, "We weren't used to the hostile crowd, and it rattled us at the beginning."
The Crimson will try to get back on track tonight against Columbia, and tomorrow against Cornell. Both games are on the road, so it won't be easy. "We're expecting two really tough games," McLaughlin said.