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At a certain point, you just have to start feeling sorry for them.
Monday night, the Harvard men’s basketball team was seconds away from victory.
But the gut-wrenching, painful streak continued.
Another game, another loss.
The 0-10 Crimson is now just one loss away from tying the 1991-92 squad—coach Frank Sullivan’s first—for the worst start to a season during his tenure.
And with Harvard’s next game against its toughest scheduled opponent, Associated Press No. 6 Stanford, it seems safe to conclude that the team will successfully—or dubiously—match the record.
On top of that disappointment, Harvard is now the worst team in Division I basketball. The Crimson has more losses than any of the other six winless teams in the nation. To make matters worse, the other winless teams come from obscure conferences like the MEAC (not to be confused with the MAC or the MAAC) and the SWAC. In other words, Harvard is the only “name” school to lose every game this season.
As if the record and statistics weren’t bad enough, what seems worse is the heartbreaking nature of these recent losses.
After allowing teams to score an average of 84.4 points per game during a five-game stretch, Harvard finally buckled down on defense to hold Vermont to a season-low 48 points and a woeful .304 field-goal percentage on Dec. 14.
But as fate would seem to have it, the Crimson was also held to its lowest offensive output of the year, scoring only 42 points. It was the first time since 1985 that the Catamounts won with so few points.
Then against Northeastern on Friday, trailing by 10 with 7:10 to play, Harvard staged an improbable comeback, pulling to within three with eight seconds left.
And after the Huskies’ Jose Juan Barea—the team’s star point guard who had already sunk five of his six free throw attempts—missed both shots from the charity strip to give the Crimson one last chance to send the game into overtime, it seemed that Harvard’s luck had finally come around.
But junior point guard David Giovacchini’s last second three-pointer bounced harmlessly off the rim, securing loss number nine for Harvard.
Monday night, it was more of the same for the Crimson, which watched a two-point lead with just 13 seconds remaining slip away as the game went into overtime.
In OT, the Harvard defense finally collapsed, allowing Rider to knock down all eight of its field-goal attempts.
Such disappointing results would seem to get anybody down. But not this team.
Even the idea of playing one of the top ten teams in the country—an undefeated team, no less—doesn’t seem overwhelming to this resilient bunch.
“Every game we go into, we fully expect that we are going to win,” sophomore forward Luke McCrone said.
Even sophomore forward Matt Stehle—who all but guaranteed a win before the Crimson’s 88-79 Dec. 6 loss to Lehigh—seemed optimistic about the trip out West, which includes a stop at San Jose State (5-4) in addition to the game against the Cardinal.
“Hopefully we’ll get a win in California,” Stehle said.
Even more surprising: they don’t even seem upset about how close these losses have been.
“It’s been real frustrating, but it all comes back to the way we’ve been playing in the first half,” junior captain Jason Norman said. “It all starts in practice. We just need to work harder out there.”
Maybe this optimism comes from the fact that Harvard really is that close to pulling off its first victory since March 1.
“They’re really hard to play against,” Rider coach Don Harnum said. “They’re getting better on every tape I have seen.”
And what better place to get that first W than against Stanford—the very same school that the Crimson’s female counterparts upset in the first round of the 1998 NCAA Tournament.
Could lightning strike twice?
—Staff writer Evan R. Johnson can be reached at email@example.com.
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