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A Harvard men's basketball loss these days has about as much grace and subtlety as the death of a great bull moose by heart attack. After trudging along with its opponent for three-fourths of a game on the strength of a pesky defense and decent transition game, the team will suddenly come to an abrupt stop. Its eyes will get big. Its heart will pound. Its nostrils will flair. Its neck will stiffen. And then: thunk.
Its offense will dribble a couple off its knee. Its shooting percentage will go south. Its defense will get scared. Its opponent will run away with the game. And everyone else in the wilderness that is a college basketball game--coaches, referees, cheerleaders, fans and journalists--will wonder just what the hell happened.
Tuesday night the Crimson was leading Holy Cross by 11 points with 10:19 left. The Crusaders applied a frenetic full court press. The Crimson committed eight turnovers in the next four minutes. Thunk.
A 75-68 loss.
Saturday Harvard was trailing a strong Lehigh team by only two at Briggs Cage with 9:49 left. The Engineers stepped up their intensity a notch. The Crimson missed two shots and committed two turnovers in the next two minutes, and was charged with 10 fouls for the rest of the game. Thunk.
An 83-74 loss.
"It's a question of rhythm," said Harvard coach Frank Sullivan, understating the matter. "We've just been unable to get a rhythm going for a full game. We got down, we made some mistakes, committed some fouls, and they hit their free throws. It's frustrating."
"It's not something you can really put your finger on," sophomore Kyle Snowden said. "It's not necessarily our inside game or our outside game or our defense. It's just that we've been streaky against good teams."
Don't believe them? Ask an impartial observer of the team's most recent collapse, Lehigh guard Rashawne Glenn. Glenn ate up Harvard with 25 points on nine-of-12 shooting in Saturday's game. Still, he had nothing but compliments for his prey.
"They (Harvard) have a great team, they really do," he said. "They just seem to get into ruts where nothing goes right. This team (Lehigh) has been there, too. It's frustrating. God, you don't know what to do. You just have to keep on trying to do the right things and hope that everything works out."
That's how the Crimson approached Saturday's game. Tuesday's loss was devastating, the second year in a row Harvard has lost a big lead to Holy Cross. It was hoping to return to the form which had given it a 2-1 start and a gutsy win over St. Francis two weeks ago. It was hoping for something on the lines of last year's 71-70 win over the Engineers.
And at the start of the game, it looked like it might be in a position to get it. For the first eight minutes, the squads traded baskets. Glenn and fellow guard Allan Campbell wore out the net from deep for Lehigh, while Snowden and co-captain Travis Leake countered for the Crimson from inside the paint. With 11:24 left Harvard junior Travis Gilmore hit his first three pointer of the game (he would connect on five for the game), tying the contest at 15.
Then both sides got streaky. First, the Engineers took advantage of four Crimson fouls in three minutes to go up 23-17 with 7:28 left. Then Harvard retaliated with three transition buckets in a row and another Gilmore three-pointer, taking a 27-25 lead with 4:08 left. And finally, the Engineers capitalized on five Harvard turnovers in the last four minutes to take a 36-29 half-time lead.
The Crimson was wounded, but not dead.
"We knew we were in a position to come back," said Gilmore, who led the team with 21 points for the game. "It was only seven points and we had a lot of time. We really didn't panic at all. We were determined to come back."
The Crimson came out primed in the second. Sophomore big man Darren Rankin was called for his third foul of the game and was summarily sent to the pine in the first few minutes of the half, but his teammates bore on. They crept closer one turnaround jump shot at a time, despite allowing the taller Engineers a bevy of easy buckets. With 14:11 left, Harvard trailed by five, 46-41. With 13:20, Harvard trailed by four, 47-43. With 9:49 left, Harvard trailed by two, 51-49.
Turnovers, missed shots, fouls, death: an ugly end to a decent game.
The win catapults Lehigh to a 4-2 record, its two losses coming to Ivy heavies Penn and Princeton.
The loss leaves the Crimson with a 2-3 mark going into home action Tuesday against Dartmouth and a dogged faith in life after death.
"Things are pretty positive, actually," Snowden said. "We've had some tough losses, but we've played well, for the most part. We're just going to keep on doing our best and see what happens."
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