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It seemed like nothing at first. When senior forward Jonah Travis entered the game in the second half, the Harvard men’s basketball team (10-4, 1-0 Ivy) was missing layups, struggling to defend the basket, and stuck in a double-digit deficit that all but assured the team’s first loss against Boston College (8-7, 0-3 ACC) since 2006.
Not a person in Conte Forum could tell you that this substitution would change the game.
Harvard had shot an abysmal 25 percent from the field and 12.5 percent from beyond the arc to go along with 10 turnovers in the first half. Though the Crimson would eventually fall, 64-57 in overtime, it was Travis who catalyzed the squad and opened the door to the comeback to force an extra five minutes of playing time.
“I thought Jonah did give us a shot in the arm,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “His energy off the bench was noticeable and needed…. He got on the backboard and was gritty and tough.”
Travis entered the game with 15:16 left in the game and his team down 12 points. After sophomore guard Corbin Miller missed on a three, Travis sprinted beyond the base line, leaping into the crowd, and saving the possession, throwing the ball between his legs to junior co-captain Siyani Chambers, who finished the night with 10 points and four assists after being blanked in the first half.
Seconds later, Travis ripped the ball from Boston College’s Aaron Brown. The senior's teammates would soon start to feed off his energy, as a steal by Chambers a minute later led to Miller’s second three of the night.
“It always helps to have guys come in like that [because] the rest of us can feed off that energy,” said Miller. “It is important that we have a player that can come in and do it for us. The rest of us definitely feed off that.”
On the ensuing possession, Travis continued to will his team back, drawing a charge as part of a defensive effort that would see the Eagles go scoreless for over four straight minutes.
Though severely undersized at 6’6”, Travis skied up over Boston College center Dennis Clifford, who towers at 7’0”, for the offensive board on the next play. Right on cue, Travis got the ball back, took a hard dribble, and knocked down the step-back jumper to cut the lead to six. The comeback was on.
From there, senior guard Wesley Saunders, who paced Harvard with 15 points, continued to attack the lane and draw fouls to get to the line. Meanwhile, Miller did what he does best: shoot.
The sophomore knocked down two more threes in a row, followed by a long jumper with 6:54 to play to tie the game at 39 apiece. The Eagles responded with a basket, but a drive by Saunders followed by a steal and dunk from junior forward Evan Cummins gave the Crimson its first lead of the night.
But that lead would never grow beyond two points. With his team down a bucket, guarded by the much smaller Chambers, Brown found space underneath the rim with 34 ticks on the clock to tie the game.
With 19 seconds remaining, Saunders drove the lane, spun, and tossed up an errant fade away jumper—a scene all too familiar to his missed game-winning attempt against Holy Cross in November.
“The play is exactly what we want, which is in Wesley’s hands in the paint,” Amaker said. “There’s no better play that anyone else could draw up…. He’s the most dynamic offensive player and if you can get it in his hands on the move and get to the paint… you take that every day of the week and twice on Sunday.”
In overtime, Boston College quickly jumped out to a 56-51 lead, as Harvard only managed to connect on two field goals in the extra period of play. Though a layup from Chambers would cut the lead to two, Eagles senior Patrick Heckmann delivered the dagger with just 46 seconds remaining courtesy of a corner three on the ensuing possession to put his squad up by five and put the game out of reach.
While the loss will have no impact on Harvard’s bid to win its fourth straight Ivy League title, the status of senior center Kenyatta Smith certainly will. With 18:02 left in the second half, Smith came down awkwardly on his ankle, cringing in pain. Though Amaker said Smith’s status is unknown at this point, Smith did suffer a broken left foot last February that plagued him all of last season.
—Staff writer Andrew Farber can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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