Everyone knows the clicher big-time players step up in big games. Unfortunately for the Harvard men's basketball team, the statement proved itself true last night.
Dartmouth's Ivy League-leading scorer Sea Lonergan lit up lavietes Pavilion. The junior guard poured in 30 points to lift Dartmouth (5-0, 1-0 Ivy) over the Crimson, 70-61 in the first Ivy League contest of the season.
Harvard (4-2, 0-1) dropped its second-consecutive decision after starting the season 4-0 and extending a six game winning streak that dated back to last season. The Crimson was hoping to get an early lead in the Ancient Eight standings heading into 1996, but Lonergan and the Big Green had a different scenario in mind.
"Dartmouth is as good as advertised," Harvard coach Frank Sullivan said. "They really are a top team in our league, and they made us a bit tentative on offense."
The first half was played about as evenly as they come. Dartmouth opened up an early six-point lead as Lonergan chipped in two quick buckets before Harvard started closing the gap. Freshman point guard Tim Hill hit a long jumper to set the Crimson on its way, and four minutes later it was Hill once again who knocked down a big three-pointer to knot the score at 14.
Hill was the shining star for Harvard all evening long, scoring 23 points on a remarkable seven-for-10 shooting performance including two from downtown. He was also perfect from the free-throw line, converting on all seven chances, and chipped in four assists and two rebounds.
"I think tonight we were just a couple of possessions away from being able to win the game," Hill said. "I felt we needed to be a little more aggressive on offense. I just tried to do what I thought the team needed to win."
The story this night, however, was the inability of Harvard's defense to stop Lonergan. Every time the Crimson managed to grab a lead Lonergan found some way to erase it.
Following Hill's game-tying trey, junior guard David Weaver (10 points, six rebounds) put the Crimson ahead for the first time with a three of his own. Dartmouth pulled to within one on a baseline jumper from Brain Gilpin (16, seven), and Lonergan gave the Big Green the lead with the first of his three shots from beyond the arc.
The Crimson jumped in front again on a Weaver three-pointer, but Lonergan matched him and wiped out that lead. The Dartmouth guard ended two more Harvard advantages, one of an alley-oop and one on two free throws with 3:43 to play in the first half, which tied the score at 26. Harvard would not regain the lead.
"(Lonergan) is just a really good player," Dartmouth coach Dave Faucher said. "He had fire under his sneakers tonight."
Lonergan hit his third trey of the night at the end of the first half, and Hill answered with a long jumper to make the score 33-29 at the midway point. Dartmouth opened up the second half in a big way.
Gilpin struck first win an emphatic dunk from underneath. Lonergan followed that with a driving slam which also drew a foul. He converted the three-point play and Gilpin hit a layup to give the Big Green a 40-29 advantage.
Harvard could not get any closer than six points in the second half until the Dartmouth bench drew a technical foul. The Big Green players leaped to their feet on what they thought should have been a travelling call on a rebound by Kyle Snowden (13, 14) who dominated the boards all night. Hill hit both free throws and junior guard Mike Gilmore knocked down the 132nd three-pointer of his career to bring Harvard to within 50-47.
It seemed the Crimson had all the momentum--that shot by Gilmore broke the school record for career three-pointers. But Dartmouth sophomore forward P.I. Halas put a damper on the evening by hitting from beyond the are to keep Harvard at bay.
"They are a very experienced team." Sullivan said. "They can get at you with lots of dimensions. We just came up a little short."
The Crimson put up a valiant effort down the stretch cutting an 11-point Dartmouth lead to five behind six Tim Hill points. But the team came up short as lonergan closed out the scoring with four clutch free throws in the final 16 seconds--he was a perfect 11 of 11 from the charity stripe for the night.