by Scott Reed
Cambridge, MA - At its very core, the significance of Harvard's 63-47 win over the Dartmouth Big Green at Lavietes Pavilion was that it was just that - a win. The stated goal for this team is to win their second Ivy title, and Saturday served them well in that regard, as the Crimson are now 1-0 in conference play. Yet, for much of the game Harvard's performance was a tad worrisome, before a big run - sparked by the leadership of senior co-captain Oliver McNally- turned it around.
Unfortunately, for a while against Dartmouth it appeared that the malaise of Tuesday's loss at Fordham had not yet worn off. Although the Crimson jumped out to a 20-11 lead, they only scored three points in the final 7:11, taking a slim 23-22 lead to the locker room. Overall, those final minutes were played pretty sloppily - the Crimson tried and missed a host of three point baskets, Dartmouth ended the first half with eight offensive rebounds, mostly due to hustle.
Perhaps a bit of it could be contributed to the pressure of a conference opener. "I honestly was trying to get our kids to relax...I think that sometimes they can feel like a lot of weight is on their shoulders, especially during conference play, " Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker said of his speech at halftime
What transpired in the second half was first a continuance of the funk the Crimson seemed to have gotten caught in - Dartmouth would grab the lead, leading by six with just over fourteen minutes to play. Then, however, Harvard turned it around, on the strength of a 24-4 run over the next nine minutes, which proved to be the deciding stretch.
That stretch and the resulting good play was welcomed warmly by the Crimson faithful, like an old friend that had not been seen in ages; indeed, other than the period at the end of the second half against Saint Josephs, the Crimson hadn't gone on quite a run in some time. One knew that Harvard would go off at some point - this team is too talented not to - but it was a matter of when it would.
"That's when I thought our kids really dug in and got the stops defensively, and our pace improved," said Amaker of that run. He attributed much of the turnaround to his senior guard, Oliver McNally. The co-captain from San Francisco, who would finish with a game-high seventeen points, initiated the comeback with made baskets and intensity on the defensive end.
Afterwards, Amaker spoke glowingly of McNally: "Oliver is the spirit and leader of our team from a vocal standpoint...I thought he was outstanding [today]." Amaker also hinted that the guard was also vocal in the locker room and in the huddle, and provided praise for his leadership ability. "He's a tremendous leader, he's just wired that way. If he played a position in football, it would be quarterback....Whatever success we've had here during his time, you can contribute a lot of it to him."
The importance of a senior leader like McNally cannot be understated, especially for a team that has the highest of expectations. Things may not all go smoothly in Ivy League play - Harvard's last two games have been evidence that even a great team can play poorly and fall on a given night - and whether the team is able to bounce back from disappointment may determine whether it gets its desired championship. And although it was sloppy Saturday, the Crimson were able to respond to rough stretches and get the win - and that says something about this team and its senior guard.