That Hard-to-find Killer Instinct

Han Solo

Your men's basketball team shot 56 percent from the field in last night's game against Holy Cross, including a sizzling 65 percent in the second half. It held Rob Feaster, the nation's second leading scorer, to 13 points. And it led by 15 with just 13 minutes to play.

But it lost the game.

Quick explanation? Harvard couldn't handle Holy Cross's aggressive full-court press in the game's closing minutes. An astounding 34 Crimson turnovers led to a slew of easy Crusader lay-ups in the second half.

Deeper explanation? Harvard just hasn't learned to win consistently in the close games that distinguishes good teams from mediocre ones. Until it does, you can look forward to reading more stories like this one in your morning paper.

'We lost our composure...and they took advantage.' Frank Sullivan

"You have to give credit to Holy Cros. for getting in there," said Harvard Coach Frank Sullivan. "We lost our composure in a few situations, and they took advantage."

Yes, that's right. The Crusaders, led by a freshman named Walter Brown, showed guts in climbing back from a 45-30 deficit midway through the second stanza.

But what about the Crimson? Jared Leake, Dan Morris, Darren Rankin--these are players who have been around for a few seasons and who certainly seem like they want to win. Why don't they, more often?

The answer lies in the old catch-all, Intangibles. As in, the Other Team usually seems to have them, and we don't.

Asked to diagnose Harvard's ills against Holy Cross, Rankin offered few definite answers.

"The second half was really up and down, up and down," he said. "They had a really unorthodox press. There was no rhyme or reason to it. But somehow we got stagnant and bogged down against it. We didn't react well."

Part of the problem may lie in the fact that the Harvard players simply aren't used to winning and thus allow opponents back into games where the Crimson snatch early leads. Yesterday's contest was cerily reminiscent of last year's matchup, in which Holy Cross rallied from a 21-point deficit for to win.

A look at recent history confirms the Crimson's inexperience with victory: the last three Harvard squads have gone 6-20, 6-20, and 9-17. That's 21-57, for those of you keeping track at home. And that's not a record that creates the killer instinct possessed by championship ballclubs.

This isn't to say that the current Harvard team is filled with losers, or that the squad will never break through to a winning record--something it hasn't achieved, by the way, since 1984-85.

But at some point, if they want to escape their program's tradition of losing, the Harvard players will have to step and make big-time plays the way big-time players do.

They will have to finish off opponents against whom they've built big leads. They will have to sink pressure free throws down the stretch. (They were only seven of 13 from the line in the second half last night). And they will have to handle the pressure--both from opponents' defense, and from their own expectations and hopes for success.