The difference between Harvard and Boston College has been six years in the making, but it took only five minutes to see it play out.
For the first time in 23 years, the Crimson played the Eagles at Lavietes Pavilion, and Harvard seemed to thrive on every possession. When their defense suffocated the Eagles and the shot clock wound down to its final seconds, the Harvard bench erupted. The players knew there wasn’t a good shot left for BC to take. And the roars from their bench let everyone in the gym know.
“It means that we’re actually doing what we set out to accomplish, what we’ve been talking about for days,” Crimson forward Johan Travis (11 points) said. “To lock up and not allow them to score and not allow them to get easy shots, when you see it come into fruition, it’s great. That’s why it really gets us excited.”
When Harvard’s Wesley Saunders and BC’s Olivier Hanlan were locked in a one-on-one matchup near midcourt, and Saunders knocked the ball away, made a beeline for the basket, and converted a layup, he gave Hanlan a quick but knowing glare.
“There’s a lot of little individual one-on-one matchups in the game,” Saunders said. “So it’s always nice to have that competition knowing you’re going against somebody that’s really just a great player and just to have that back and forth.”
And when Harvard walked away with a 73-58 win, its sixth straight over the Eagles, it was clear that the Crimson don’t see the Eagles as a major conference bully anymore.
“We’ve played pretty much every conference,” said Saunders, who had 21 points and six rebounds. “Big teams, small teams, so I don’t think we get too caught up in the ACC thing. It’s more of just the rivalry, the crosstown thing.”
The Crimson (12-1) were more than just a team that has run off eight straight wins overall. They were a team with a surplus of confidence, something the Eagles (4-10) have been searching for all season.
And when BC coach Steve Donahue looked at the Crimson, he could see what his team is missing.
“That’s what Tommy [Amaker] has built with those kids,” Donahue said. “It’s a selfless team that is talented. They’re not the most talented team that we’ve played, it’s not that. It’s that they’re all committed to what the team is about. There’s absolutely no other agenda. I know what that feels like, I was fortunate to have that, and I see similar qualities in Harvard.”
The win was the 300th of Amaker’s career.
“I’ve been at it for a while,” he said, cheekily. “I guess that’s all that means.”
In his seven years at Harvard, he’s never lost to BC. At the same time, he never compares the programs.
“I can’t speak on any other program than ours,” Amaker said. “We’re pleased with the growth and the vision from Day One and the things that we’ve been able to implement. The style, the philosophy, and I’m just so proud of our kids that have been a part of this. It’s been a fun ride, to say the least.”
Kyle Casey missed six of his seven shots from the field and still finished with his second double-double of the season (11 points, 10 rebounds). He was in stealth mode most of the night, until midway through the second half when he came from the weak side for a loud block on Ryan Anderson (17 points, nine rebounds) that Crimson point guard Siyani Chambers turned into a 3-pointer that made it 63-51.
The Eagles, on the other hand, couldn’t find a pick-me-up. They went 6 for 20 on 3-pointers, and Harvard turned their eight misses from long-range in the first half into 12 points.
Harvard also practically roped off the lane, holding the Eagles to 4 points in the paint in the first half. In the meantime, the Crimson were graffiti artists, scoring 18 of their 39 first-half points in the paint.
After going into the break trailing, 39-25, a 12-4 run to start the second half gave the Eagles life. The firestarter was Eddie Odio, who scored 8 of his 11 points in the second half.
But they spent the rest of the game trying to climb out of a hole that was too deep.
“The issue right now, with 10 losses, our confidence isn’t what it is, and you get in these situations and you’re not confident,” Donahue said.” I think that the thing we’re fighting with right now is that.”
The Eagles haven’t beaten a Division 1 opponent since November. They’re the only team in the Atlantic Coast Conference with a losing record. Every other team in the conference is at least three games over .500. The ACC portion of BC’s schedule begins in earnest on Saturday against Clemson, and the challenge from this point will be putting a painful three months behind it.
“I honestly feel this schedule is going to benefit us at some point,” Donahue said. “Is it Saturday? Is it a week from now? Is it a month from now? Is it when these guys are seniors? We played everybody everywhere.
“Can we benefit from this? It’s obvious, I’ve got to get them back confident, feeling good about themselves, feeling good about what we’re doing. That’s going to help us win on Saturday.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.