We’re in the dog days of February, the part of the college basketball season by which the really good teams have established themselves, but know that crunch time and the madness of March will soon be approaching, and thus sometimes conserve energy against lesser opponents.
For Harvard, which was the class of the Ivy League at the start of the season and has done nothing to change that, dealing with home games this weekend against Cornell and Columbia is as much a challenge in the mind as on the court.
Neither team was expected to be an Ivy contender, and going into this weekend, neither had shown any such potential. Certainly Cornell didn’t last night, as Harvard eased its way to a 71-60 victory.
Leading the way for the Crimson was sophomore guard Laurent Rivard with 16 points, and junior forward Kyle Casey, who added 13 points and six rebounds.
“I thought we played a pretty darn good defensive first half,’’ said Harvard coach Tommy Amaker, whose team built a 14-point halftime lead, but seemed to coast for much of the second half. “At the start of the second half, I was not very happy with how we responded. I thought we did not have the attention to detail we needed in the second half.’’
Cornell (7-12, 2-3) remains in search of its first road win of the season (0-10), while Harvard (19-2, 5-0) has yet to lose at Lavietes Pavilion (7-0).
After a road sweep of Yale and Brown last week, and with the always challenging Penn-Princeton road weekend coming up, beating Cornell and Columbia was a foregone conclusion in the minds of many of the growing number of Crimson backers.
All week, Amaker reminded his players of what could happen if they weren’t focused. And as has been the case for many of their games this season, it took awhile for the Crimson to get into the flow.
With only a 13-11 lead nearly midway through the first half, the Crimson finally got serious, using a pair of scoring bursts to take control. The most impressive display was 8 straight points by Rivard, which gave the Crimson a 12-point lead.
By the half, Harvard had a 38-24 advantage, highlighted by Rivard’s 11 points.
The Crimson again needed a wake-up call in the second half, as they came out of the locker room looking disinterested, scoring only 2 points and committing four turnovers in the first four minutes.
Amaker used the first television timeout of the second half to remind his players that the game was far from over, which of course, it was.
But the Crimson were hardly satisfied with the way the victory was achieved, as evidenced by the number of turnovers (16) to assists (12).
“We lost focus, I think we relaxed. We were at home and we had the lead,’’ said Rivard.
Casey, who is slowly reemerging as one of the leaders on offense, also was not pleased.
“I thought we showed a lot of immaturity,’’ he said. “It’s humbling, it’s unacceptable for us to come out like that, to drop the ball like that in the second half.’’
The bottom line is that the Crimson survived, and with Penn’s loss to Yale last night, Harvard’s grip on first place in the Ivy is even stronger.
Now, it just has to figure out a way not to let it slip away because of mental lapses.
Mark Blaudschun can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.