One team was from a power conference. The other team was nationally ranked for the first time in school history.
Both teams were coming off a week’s layoff for the holidays and exams.
In terms of national prominence, Harvard vs. Boston College is not a big deal, but this is a special Harvard team, and BC, with nine freshmen on its roster, is going through the expected growing pains.
All of which provided a decent evening of entertainment last night at Conte Forum, as coach Tommy Amaker’s 24th-ranked Crimson showed again why they may be one of the best Harvard teams ever, posting a 67-46 victory over Steve Donahue’s Eagles.
The Crimson (11-1) fell behind early, then used a 19-2 surge to take a 7-point halftime lead. Their key was the long-range shooting of Laurent Rivard, who scored 15 of his 18 points in the first half, including 12 on 3-point shots.
“I tell him he’s the second-best 3-point shooter in the city,’’ said Amaker. “The other is Ray Allen.’’
This ACC-Ivy League matchup was intriguing enough to attract the first sellout of the season to Conte Forum. BC (5-8) had a modest three-game winning streak and a sense that it was gradually finding its identity.
Harvard came in with a winning streak against teams from Massachusetts that dated to 2008 and spanned 13 games, including a 3-0 sweep this season of MIT, Holy Cross, and Boston University. Included in that 13-game run was a three-game winning streak at Conte Forum against the Eagles.
But the Crimson, whose only loss this season was to defending national champion Connecticut, hardly came out of the chute looking like a ranked team. Instead, this looked like a typical ACC-Ivy mismatch with the Eagles jumping to a 14-3 lead and Harvard missing its first eight shots.
After missing 14 of their first 17, the Crimson finally appeared to get into a comfort zone, offensively and defensively. They chipped away at the BC lead and went into the locker room at halftime with a comfortable 40-33 edge.
BC, which begins its ACC schedule next week at North Carolina, needed a surge at the start of the second half to stay in the game. But the best the Eagles could do was trade baskets with the Crimson, which wasn’t enough.
“I thought we lost our way offensively,’’ said Donahue. “We battled really hard defensively for long stretches. It seemed that every time we shot ourselves in the foot offensively, they took advantage of it.’’
BC did show signs of improvement, with a solid effort by freshman Dennis Clifford (14 points) and some offensive highlights by Patrick Heckmann (13).
“We could have executed a little better,’’ said Clifford.
Harvard built its lead in the final minutes as it simply wore down the Eagles in every phase of the game.
Donahue, who dominated the Crimson in his last few years at Cornell, saw a Harvard team that can compete in any league (including the ACC) hold his team to 13 points in the second half.
“They’re a good basketball team and they made adjustments,’’ said Donahue. “There are a couple of things that make them really good, and defense is one of them.
“They start three guys who have started three or four years, none of them average over 6 points, and they’re content with winning. That’s when you have a dangerous team.
“I grew up on Ivy League basketball in Philadelphia. I saw the 1979 Penn team that went to the Final Four. The ’98 Princeton team was ranked seventh in the country. The runs that Penn made and our [Cornell] team.
“When you can get it going at those places, the intelligence and the unselfishness on those teams is what separates them. I think Harvard has that same formula.’’
The Crimson will face a challenge tomorrow afternoon when a revitalized Saint Joseph’s team comes to Lavietes Pavilion for a New Year’s Eve Atlantic 10-Ivy League matchup.