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Nailbiters Are No Longer the Norm For Crimson

The Doctor's In

By M.d. Stankiewicz

Call them the "Kardiac Kids" no more.

Last year, nailbiters were the norm for the Harvard men's basketball team. Sixteen of its last 21 games finished with a margin of fewer than 10 points or went to overtime. Nine games were decided in the last minute and four were overtime decisions.

Harvard Coach Peter Roby has always promised an entertaining brand of play and, despite an 11-15 season, the Crimson was more than entertaining for Briggs Cage junkies last year.

Last night, Harvard fans got a glimpse of what is becoming a common theme in Harvard basketball this year--the blowout. This time, it was a 114-66 loss to cross-town Big East foe Boston College.

Headlines reading "romps," "crushes" and "mauls" are steadily becoming offshoots of Crimson games this season, and "entertainment" has taken a back seat. Only one game has come down to the last minute, a 73-71 loss to Air Force decided by All-America Raymond Dudley's jumper at the buzzer.

And it hasn't just been the losses that have lacked excitement. Sure the team's worst loss in the history of the program, a 130-54 defeat at the hands of Duke, and a 117-79 loss to Nebraska were tough, but even the Crimson's wins have been lopsided, including Saturday's 91-61 romp over Central Connecticut.

Stressed Out

All this means that Harvard is getting very little preparation for its Ivy season, which opens January 6 against Dartmouth. Worse, last night's defeat cannot be attributed to the superior talent of B.C. or the unavailability of Ralph James and Tchad Robinson for the Crimson.

"What I'm concerned about is the stress test," Roby said. "When you're an engineer, in order to test the product, you put it under extreme pressure--more pressure than you could ever hope to find in regular use--in order to be confident and sure that it will hold up under stress."

"It's easy to do the right things when you're winning, but it's really hard to do when you're down," Roby continued. "That's the stress test and we're still looking to make sure that we're going to react the proper way."

Remember, the Eagles, starting three freshmen, are not the pride of the Big East this year. Coach Jim O'Brien's squad was not invited to the ACC-Big East showdowns last week because it was ranked last in the league.

"If the other team's going to put five guys out on the court, we have to play, because we're not good enough to take anybody for granted," O'Brien said.

But for Harvard last night, bringing the ball up the court against the Eagles press was an adventure. Passes ended up at teammates' ankles, in the stands and nestled in the soft hands of B.C. players. The Eagles recorded 21 steals and forced 33 Harvard turnovers.

The Crimson's shooting was no better, as Harvard nailed only 37 percent of its shots from the field. Turnarounds in the lane missed the basket, shots had no rotation and three-pointers failed to reach the basket. At least Harvard--entering the game shooting only 64 percent from the foul line--nailed a respectable 69 percent of its freebies last night.

"I don't know if any statistics are significant because the score was so lopsided," Roby said. "That's what I mean about the stress test. You've got to make those free throws when the game is in doubt. When you're down 27 at the half, I don't know if any statistic is significant."

Young's Modulus

Forget the stress test. Roby has to be worried about the strain these blowouts are putting on his players' psyches. What has started as an enthusiastic team is slowly being pushed into the ground, blowout after blowout. Now, perserverance is the key.

"Sure we're beat up, but I'm not sure what's worse, the mental thing or the physical thing," Roby said. "There's just no reason for games like this. It's just hard to swallow."

Even before the Ivy season has begun, the Crimson is facing its first challenge--recovering from these blowouts. That challenge starts Tuesday night against Vermont in front of what should be a sparse, already-in-winter-vacation home crowd.

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