Two years ago, as a freshman, I made the trek across a frozen Charles River to Lavietes Pavillion for my first Harvard basketball game. On that blustery December night, the Crimson beat Rice by 21 points to move to 6-1 on the young season. The game was a blip on the radar around campus. That night, the student section consisted of maybe twenty kids, almost all athletes who knew the players personally. Total attendance was 986.
Two years almost to the day later, I again walked across the Charles for a non-conference contest against Seattle. The intimate setting at Lavietes was the same but everything else had changed dramatically. The intervening 652 days have brought unprecedented success for Harvard basketball. The team, under coach Tommy Amaker, broke the program record for wins, won its first (shared) Ivy League title, and came within one possession of its first NCAA tournament berth since 1947. Brandyn Curry, Kyle Casey, and Christian Webster, the freshman class that had scored a combined 23 points in the win over Rice, have become efficient upperclassmen. Keith Wright, who had his best collegiate game to that point against the Owls, is the reigning Ivy Player of the Year. While the last-second loss to Princeton last season was the brutal reminder that Our Game will hurt us, the Crimson fanbase has had a fantastic two years.
This year's edition of the Crimson returns every meaningful minute from the 2010-2011 squad, and has raced off to a 7-0 start, which includes a win in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament. There is a buzz around campus I have never heard for any sporting event, including the annual Harvard-Yale football game. I have overheard more conversations about basketball in the dining halls and shuttles around Cambridge than at any time in the previous two years.
It was thus extremely heartening, but not entirely surprising to arrive at Lavietes and find it almost entirely sold out. The student section was full, despite it being exam period, and the cheers were led by at least six of the original twenty students from the Rice game. And the students had quite a bit to cheer about. Harvard held a comfortable lead for most of the game against a game Seattle University squad that fought hard, if not with efficiency.
Harvard showed that its best asset this year may be its depth. With stars Kyle Casey and Keith Wright rendered ineffective by foul trouble and swarming double-teaming by the Seattle defense, the Crimson relied on their freshman post presences to carry them. Jonah Travis contributed a career-high 19 points and 10 rebounds, and Steve Moundou-Missi added eight points and six boards. Sophomore Laurent Rivard added 14 points, drawing fouls on three separate jump shots. The Crimson led by between nine and seventeen for the last 25 minutes of the game.
As the dull December light shone through the glass ceiling of Lavietes and it became clear that Harvard would win, I was lost in reflection of what the last two years have brought, and what might be yet to come.
Harvard now enters its showdown with Connecticut undefeated. The eyes of the college basketball country have begun to turn towards Cambridge, but more importantly, the eyes of those at Harvard have fixated fully on the Crimson basketball program. Perhaps by virtue of its amazing diversity of opportunity, Harvard is not a place that is usually united by a common cause. Athletics are somewhat sneered at by some of the faculty and administration. The continued success of the basketball program, however, is slowly changing that. What Amaker's bunch has done, and may continue to do, on one side of the Charles has had outsized effects on the other.
at HARVARD 80, SEATTLE 70 12/04/2011
SEATTLE 2-4 (0-0) -- A. Broussard 4-10 4-7 12; C. Rasmussen 2-6 0-0 5; L. Green 4-4 0-1 8; P. Obasi 2-6 2-2 8; A. Tate 4-6 0-1 8; C. Burrell 3-4 0-0 6; C. Trent 5-7 3-4 14; E. Wallace 3-4 0-2 6; S. Carter 1-5 0-0 3; T. Diop 0-0 0-1 0. Totals 28-52 9-18 70. HARVARD 8-0 (0-0) -- O. McNally 1-4 4-5 6; S. Moundou-Missi 2-6 4-5 8; B. Curry 2-6 3-4 8; K. Wright 2-7 1-2 5; L. Rivard 3-8 6-7 14; J. Travis 6-8 7-9 19; W. Saunders 0-1 2-2 2; C. Webster 3-7 0-0 7; K. Casey 3-6 2-2 8; C. Miller 1-3 0-0 3. Totals 23-56 29-36 80.
Three-point goals: SEA 5-15 (S. Carter 1-4; C. Trent 1-1; C. Rasmussen 1-4; P. Obasi 2-4; A. Tate 0-2), HARV 5-19 (O. McNally 0-2; K. Casey 0-1; B. Curry 1-2; C. Webster 1-4; L. Rivard 2-7; C. Miller 1-3); Rebounds: SEA 23 (E. Wallace 6), HARV 33 (J. Travis 10); Assists: SEA 10 (A. Broussard 3), HARV 11 (B. Curry 4); Total Fouls -- SEA 28, HARV 15; Fouled Out: SEA-C. Trent; HARV-None.