It could have folded. It could have withered in front of the crowd of 11,014 raucous fans at the Joyce Center.
But the Harvard men’s basketball team erased a 43-27 halftime deficit—and months of haunting memories of last season’s 4-23 campaign—outscoring No. 20 Notre Dame 30-14 over the first 13:45 of the second half to knot the game at 57, before falling 66-59 Friday night.
“Their students and fans were energized, but we came out with great energy in the second half,” Harvard coach Frank Sullivan said. “A year ago, we might have faded away, but this year we got charged up and competed.”
After senior guard Kevin Rogus hit the three that brought the Crimson (0-1) even at 57, both sides converted just one field goal each the rest of the way. But the Fighting Irish’s seven free throws—five of which came in the game’s final minute—over that span proved to be the difference.
“We didn’t win, which was unfortunate, but we definitely proved that we can play with these guys,” senior center Graham Beatty said. “Now we’re going to go back east and tear it up out there.”
After a slow start which saw the teams jump out to an 8-8 tie six minutes in to the game, Notre Dame (1-0) forged a 12-1 run, including a three-pointer by guard Chris Thomas and three free throws by guard Chris Quinn. The Crimson closed the lead to single digits after a Rogus three made the score 29-20 with 4:35 remaining in the half.
The Irish closed out the half on a 14-7 run, for the 16-point halftime margin.
“We were turning it over way too much and giving Notre Dame too many easy baskets,” senior guard David Giovacchini said. “So we decided to come out with a lot of energy and cut down on the turnovers. We wanted to make some more defensive rebounds so we could limit their possessions. That got us back in the game.”
Harvard had 13 turnovers in the first half, but limited itself to just six more in the second. The Crimson also won the battle on the boards, holding a 41-35 advantage on the contest. Sophomore center Brian Cusworth and junior forward Matt Stehle—who played the game with a broken nose—led the charge, bringing down 13 and 10, respectively. Cusworth scored 15 points and Stehle added 13, as they both capped off double-digit nights.
“As much as people have talked about Cusworth, this is really his first college start,” Sullivan said. “[Stehle] practiced with us once. He had a bad back, and I gave him two days off, and then he broke his nose, so he really hasn’t practiced much. The two kids are good players, but given the circumstances, I didn’t know how we would be able to handle these guys.”
While Harvard held the advantage in the paint, the Irish guards—Thomas and Quinn—both registered stellar performances. Thomas recorded 17 points, five assists and three steals, while Quinn posted 20 points, four rebounds and six steals.
“We knew we were going to be up against one of the best players in the nation [in Chris Quinn],” Sullivan said. “One thing that we weren’t able to see on tapes or in stats is if a kid has hands, and that kid has great hands.”
The Crimson’s point guard situation came into the game as unsettled as it was to start last season. Junior Michael Beal started the game, finishing with four points, an assist and six boards. Giovacchini came off the bench to record six points and three assists to just one turnover—the only Harvard player to register an assist-turnover ratio of greater than one on the evening.
But despite the high number of turnovers and the dominant guard play of Quinn and Thomas, the Crimson managed to stick it out and come within a few buckets of pulling off the dramatic upset.
“We knew that these guys are really talented,” Giovacchini said. “We’ve improved since last year though and felt like we could give them a good game tonight. I think we proved something. The game was tied with five minutes left, and they’re ranked [20th], so we were excited.”
—Staff writer Michael R. James can be reached at email@example.com.
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