Harvard’s 70-61 loss to Dartmouth was the culmination of every single thing that has gone wrong for the Crimson at some point this season. Critics of Harvard have pointed out that when Wesley Saunders isn’t “on,” they can’t win, that Harvard’s offense is anemic, that Siyani Chambers turns over the ball too frequently. One thing that Harvard had not been called out on – until yesterday – was its defense. Harvard struggled to get key stops when it needed them, which led to this deflating loss. But really, this was a tale of two halves… or four quarters, actually.
Harvard began the game playing stout defense, as usual. But also per usual, buckets were hard to come by. Dartmouth fought back and even had the lead for short portions of the first half, but Harvard was able to secure a small three-point halftime lead. Nothing too notable occurred in the first half: Dartmouth always plays Harvard tough (though Harvard had never lost to Dartmouth during its run of four straight Ivy titles), and it was a low-scoring game, but most of the sellout crowd at Lavietes Pavilion expected Harvard to pull away in the second half.
When the second half began, Harvard did just that. The Crimson started the half on a 15-4 run, and the game looked like it was over. Harvard had found its offensive groove for the first time all afternoon, and when that happens, the Crimson are practically unstoppable. Then, just like that, they lost their rhythm, and Dartmouth took advantage by going on a 26-2 run in one of the most stunning 10 minutes of play in recent memory. Harvard tried to fight back, but it just couldn’t make their shots down the stretch. Dartmouth’s Alex Mitola was absolute money from the free throw line, making 10 straight from the charity stripe with under two minutes to play. Eventually, Harvard fell to 1-1 on the young Ivy League season.
The difficult loss did not lead to a major epiphany for this fan/writer, however. Harvard had a loss like this coming. Against Dartmouth, all of the imperfections in Harvard’s game aligned, and boy did it show. Wesley Saunders looked like a different player than we had seen at the beginning of nonconference play, and he lost the ball several times when he dribbled in traffic. Was it “Deflategate 2.0?” I doubt it. Saunders was just off, and he finished with six turnovers. That alone did not spell doom for the Crimson; unfortunately, none of Saunders’ teammates stepped up offensively, either. And in the last 10 minutes of the game, Harvard’s defense allowed Dartmouth to practically double its point total from the first three quarters of play.
This Harvard team has demonstrated a wide range of performances so far this season. Do I predict this type of performance every night from here on out? Of course not, but the fact remains that the difference between this team’s worst game and its best game is like night and day. Harvard is absolutely capable of winning the rest of its Ivy League games, but the Crimson are also vulnerable in each game unless they figure out a way to establish consistency on offense.
The Crimson must put this game behind them and focus on getting ready for their next Ivy foes. The season is far from over, and this game reminds us that the less touted Ivy League matchups matter just as much as the marquee ones. When the Crimson go to Princeton to take on the Tigers this Friday, they must come away with a victory.
But it won’t be easy. After seeing the Ivy League teams play for two months now, it looks to me like the “14-Game Tournament” could quite possibly become the “15-Game Tournament” for Harvard and Yale.