Down the stretch, Dartmouth guard Michael Lang refused to miss. So when the game was on the line, the Harvard men’s basketball team’s defense refused to let him shoot.
Following a three from Lang that brought the Big Green within one at 75-74, senior guard Kevin Rogus converted the second of two attempts from the line with 10 seconds left on the clock. Having used its last timeout moments earlier, Dartmouth pushed the ball up the floor and looked for Lang on the right wing. Unable to get Lang the ball, point guard Steve Callahan was wide right on a desperation heave at the buzzer. The miss wrapped up a 76-74 win for the Crimson (5-8, 1-0 Ivy) in the Ivy League opener yesterday afternoon at Lavietes Pavilion and sent Dartmouth (3-8, 0-1) back to Hanover without a victory for the sixth year in a row.
Harvard coach Frank Sullivan was relieved that his team ended up on top.
“We’re fortunate,” Sullivan said. “It easily could’ve been Dartmouth.”
Harvard was propelled by junior forward Matt Stehle’s career-high 25 points, including nine during a 19-4 spurt midway through the second half that saw Harvard take the lead for good. The run, capped by back-to-back three-pointers by sophomore guard Jim Goffredo and captain Jason Norman, gave the Crimson a 61-51 edge with 7:54 to play.
The Big Green stormed back with a 23-14 run that saw Lang—the team’s leading scorer despite coming off the bench all year—sink four straight field goals and a pair from the line to bring his team to within one. His 24 points marked the third time in five games he scored 20 or more.
Brian Cusworth, who returned to the court after missing four games with an injury to his left thumb, had a team-high nine rebounds to go along with 13 points and two blocks. Cusworth did not score prior to intermission, as he struggled to shake off the rust and get back in the flow of the game.
“[In the first half], his timing was way off, his idea of spacing was way off, but to his credit, he didn’t get discouraged,” Sullivan said. “In the second half he felt confident he could score in the low post, and he certainly made some big baskets for us.”
Dartmouth’s senior co-captains Callahan and David Gardner chipped in 17 points apiece, but were unable to prevent their team from losing its fifth straight game for the first time in almost two years. Callahan had a team-high six rebounds, while Gardner, the 6’10 center, led his team with four assists.
Like Cusworth, Callahan was seeing his first action in several weeks because of a left thumb injury. He nailed four of his first five attempts from long distance, his stroke seemingly unaffected by the cast on his hand, but went on to make only one of his final five attempts.
Senior guard David Giovacchini led the Crimson with six helpers and gave the ball away just three times, helping Harvard record more assists than turnovers for only the third game this season. Although the Crimson had a lackluster first half, turning the ball over 10 times, the team responded with 12 assists after the break and just four more turnovers.
“We came out with more energy in the second half, and got more out of our defense,” Giovacchini said. “That makes our offense a lot easier.”
During the second half, he spent some time guarding a familiar foe—Michael Giovacchini, his younger brother, is a freshman point guard for the Big Green. The matchup did not last long, however, as the younger Giovacchini logged only two minutes, far below his season average of 19.6.
“It’s fun,” the elder Giovacchini said, “but I do wish we were playing on the same team.”
Dartmouth had its biggest lead of the game at 27-19 following an 11-2 run that included two three-pointers from reserve forward Jason Meyer, who along with Callahan and Lang combined for 49 of the 50 points scored by the Big Green’s bench. Harvard closed the half strong and cut the lead to 35-32 by halftime.
Norman finished with 11 points for Harvard, while Rogus and Goffredo each contributed eight. Dartmouth’s scoring was not as balanced—aside from Gardener, the starting lineup managed only seven points.
Harvard will play the second half of its home-and-away with Dartmouth on Saturday night, and most are expecting a repeat performance.
“I expect it will be more of the same,” Sullivan said. “It will be a one or two point game.”
—Staff writer Gregory B. Michnikov can be reached at email@example.com.