In its 85-year history, the Harvard men's basketball team has won 15 or more games in a season only 10 times. The 1995-'96 year was one of those.
Harvard finished 15-11 (7-7 Ivy), a record that sounds pretty good. But looking back at the past, this season was spectacular.
The Crimson had not won 10 games in a year this decade and had not finished above .500 since the '84-'85 15-9 season.
So what happened?
First of all, Tim Hill decided to go to Harvard. The freshman point guard was the Crimson's best recruit in recent memory. Third on the team with 10.1 points per game, Hill set a Harvard freshman record for assists with 136.
And secondly, Harvard's defense and rebounding came alive. Teams just shot 41.3 percent from the field--a 6.5 percent drop from the previous season and the Crimson's best mark since 33 years. And on the glass, Harvard outrebounded its opponents by 5.9 boards a game.
A big reason for that, and Harvard's play as a whole, was junior forward Kyle Snowden. He led the Crimson in scoring (15.1 ppg) and was ranked 10th in the nation in rebounding (11.1 rpg).
With all this, it is not surprising that Harvard started the season 4-0, beating up on Division III Babson as well as Patriot League opponents Army, Lafayette and Holy Cross. The Crimson won those games by an average of over 31 points.
But then came losses to Lehigh and Dartmouth, and in both of those contests, the Crimson's defense faltered. The Engineers shot well above 50 percent in their 80-70 win, while the Big Green's Sea Lonergan burned the Crimson for 30 points in a win at Lavietes Pavilion.
At that point, it became very clear that Harvard' lived and died with its defense. If Hill, junior Dave Demian and sophomore Mike Scott could pressure opposing guards well, and if Snowden, senior Mike Gilmore, junior Chris Grancio and captain Darren Rankin swatted away passes in the frontcourt, then Harvard could beat practically anyone. If not, the Crimson wouldn't win a whole lot.
Harvard then had four so-so non-league games, going 1-3 against varying competition to close out the 1995 half of the season at .500. Especially given Harvard's historically uncanny ability to falter at the end of the season, this record might cause alarm, but the Crimson wasn't playing all that terribly.
And as hindsight shows, Harvard was about to win seven games in a row.
The big victories in that run were a 59-40 blowout of Dartmouth in which the Big Green only scored 15 points in the second half, a 65-47 win over Adonal Foyle and NCAA Tournament-bound Colgate and a 62-47 victory over Yale that ended a three-game slide against the Elis.
But then Harvard fell to Brown in Providence in double-overtime, 73-70, a loss that took a lot of steam out of the Crimson's ship. The close defeat came on a Saturday night a week before the Princeton-Penn gauntlet, and on that next weekend Harvard seemed to be a little tighter than it was a month before.
And so, for the fifth straight season, the Crimson went 0-4 against the southern juggernauts. Two of the games were close--in the first Princeton game, the Tigers needed a last-minute three-pointer by Sydney Johnson to ice it, while Hill's last-second shot rattled in and out at Penn--but the Crimson couldn't prevail.
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