Cambridge, MA - It was the worst half of the Harvard season to date, a half riddled with turnovers, defensive miscues, and lights-out shooting by the opponent. The dismalness of the half was rivaled only by that of the first frame of the Crimson's blowout defeat against the UConn Huskies. Connecticut has since proven to be one of the nation's best ten teams, however, while Saturday's opponent, the Brown Bears (9-13, 2-6 Ivy), were near the bottom of the Ivy League.
The first half Saturday was ghastly for the Crimson: Brown shot 63% from the field including 8 for 12 behind the three point line, and Harvard (18-4, 7-1 Ivy) committed a dozen turnovers. Harvard's frustration was apparent with the grimaces on each Crimson player's face following every made Brown basket, each more incredible than the last. The Crimson looked lost on offense, with those twelve turnovers, although they would end up shooting 46% for the half.
Perhaps it was the young, senior-less Harvard team's inability to move on from the previous night's exciting victory over Yale that led to the poor first half performance (Harvard did indeed seem sluggish at the start), or perhaps the Bears had the shooting half of their lives. A modest Brown lead quickly snowballed into a 24-point edge, aided in part by the on-court Crimson frustration. Whatever the cause of Harvard's first half malaise, the Crimson went into the locker room faced with the sobering prospect of losing a league game at home to a team well below their own talent level.
"We knew what we had to do," said Kyle Casey, whose 15-footer cut the deficit to a measly 22 points just before the first-half buzzer, in a postgame interview. "We didn't panic." Indeed they did not, at least not once the second half started. If the first half was evidence of Harvard's youth, the second was a testament to its resolve, the same resolve seen in last week's win at Penn. The Crimson outscored Brown 54-25 in the second half, including one 46-14 run, and were able to escape the night without picking up a deadly second Ivy loss. The game was won in the first eight minutes of the second half, in which Harvard cut the 22 point halftime deficit down to four. From then on, it was a matter of simply outplaying a team well below the Crimson's caliber.
So what does this mean going forward? The first half was a sobering reminder that with a team this young, no game may be chalked up as an automatic win. Yet, as it has done in its last three games, Harvard emerged victorious. Playing at home certainly helped (the Crimson moved to a program best 12-0 at Lavietes Pavilion), and 22 point halftime deficits are of course much tougher to overcome on the road.
Still, though, the Crimson avoided total disaster Saturday, and that is something. Harvard will play in many more games of consequence this season, as the Ivy race with Princeton seems headed to the wire. On an ordinary evening, many Crimson faithful might have shaken their head on hearing of the Tigers' narrow win over Cornell. But they had just witnessed their own team avoiding disaster at home. And for tonight, that was enough.