Harvard might lose an Ivy League game this season - next weekend’s road encounters with Penn and Princeton could be the Crimson’s toughest challenges.
But lose in the friendly and now always sold-out Lavietes Pavilion?
Columbia, like the last 24 opponents who have come to Cambridge looking for a win, came away empty last night, as Tommy Amaker’s Crimson posted a 57-52 victory.
But make no mistake, the Crimson had to earn it.
“A terrific Ivy basketball contest,’’ said Amaker. “It wasn’t easy. None of these games are going to be. But we found a way.’’
With their 25th consecutive home win, the Crimson (20-2, 6-0) are off to their best start ever, bettering the 19-3 mark of the 1945-46 team. It was also their sixth consecutive win over the Lions.
After coming out sluggish and sloppy to begin a number of halves recently, which irritated Amaker and concerned the veterans on the team, the game plan was to show some teeth at the start of both halves, and not let up.
The Crimson accomplished that Jan. 27, handing Yale the worst beating ever by a Harvard team (65-35). And while Columbia (13-9, 2-4) came into last night’s game with three league losses, they had been by a total of 11 points.
One of Harvard’s secrets to success this season has been having a number of players step up on different nights. In the first half last night, Laurent Rivard and Brandyn Curry filled that role, Rivard scoring 12 of his game-high 20 points and Curry producing 10 of his 12 points. Keith Wright (15 points, six rebounds) added 7 points and five boards in the opening 20 minutes. And the Crimson needed each of those contributions.
Columbia did little wrong in the first half, nearly playing the Crimson even. Harvard led, 30-27, at the break, and knew a full effort in the second half would be needed to preserve its home winning streak and unblemished record in the Ivy League.
The Crimson’s largest lead in the first half was 7 points, and they couldn’t better it early in the second. For the night, the largest lead they managed was 8 points with 6:51 remaining.
Part of the problem came at the free throw line, where the normally accurate Crimson made only 10 of their first 18 and finished 21 of 32.
The Lions, who never led, closed to within 2 points (48-46) on Alex Rosenberg’s 3-point play with 2:39 left. Faced with a threat, the Crimson’s poise kicked in and the lead was expanded. But when Brian Barbour hit a floater with 26.7 seconds left, Harvard’s lead had shrunk to 53-50.
Rivard was fouled and made both foul shots with 18.6 seconds left, and the Crimson had survived.
Once again, there was no single star of the game, though Amaker singled out Wright.
“I thought Keith’s play tonight was terrific,’’ said Amaker. “That was one of the bigger differences for us. Having that post presence again. We haven’t had that from him for a while.
Wright preached the team concept.
“We win the games. That’s all that matters,’’ he said. “We want to continue off the success we had; 6-0 for the first time in program history. It’s all good.’’