Sometimes, it takes an outsider to provide a new perspective on this game we love. I've seen, either in person or from afar, every game Harvard has played this season. I've seen the Crimson triumphant in the Bahamas, laid low by a zone at Rose Hill, conquer the mighty Palestra and fall at Jadwin. In some ways, I had gotten too close to just enjoy watching Harvard play basketball.
My friend had never been to a Harvard game before, but the team's success had piqued her interest. She took in the atmosphere at Lavietes, which was frenzied with traditional rivals Yale in town, and was impressed by the energy. Midway through the second half, she turned to me and said, "there's no star on this team. They all play for each other."
This might seem like an obvious statement: Harvard's top scorers, Keith Wright and Kyle Casey, only average 10.7 points per game. I have seen no fewer than seven Crimson be the best player on the team in at least one game this season. While Wright was the Ivy League POY last year, this year he has seen his usage rate go down as the bench has stepped up. The second half of the statement is less easy to quantify, yet probably more important.
"They all play for each other." All of us, each of us. Just like our endeavors in the 800 Games Project are about the season, not the individual, Harvard's success is about the team over the individual. As Wright said to The Harvard Crimson this week, "it is amazing to see what we can accomplish when no one cares who gets the credit."
On this night, the credit, if it were to be assigned to an individual, would go to point guard Brandyn Curry. Harvard raced out to a 35-15 lead in the first half, but saw that lead cut to nine at the half and four in the second half. That is when Curry took over, scoring 7 quick points to extend the lead back to ten. Then, with 9 minutes left, Curry got the ball on the wing and drove baseline, delighting the capacity crowd by dunking it over star Yale center Greg Mangano. Yale would not get closer than 10 for the rest of the game.
The Crimson's selflessness is not purely altruistic; they have the depth and talent to play so unselfishly. Yale, on the other hand, has four very good to great Ivy players, but lacks the bench depth. This became clear in the second half against Harvard. Mangano had a typically excellent game, scoring 22 points and pulling down 11 boards, but he really was the Bulldogs' only option for a large portion of the game. Harvard had been burned by sharpshooter Austin Morgan last year, and did an excellent job taking him out of both games this season. And with captain Reggie Wilhite in foul trouble, the Bulldogs found themselves taking difficult shots all second half.
As the clock ticked down and the result became secure, the Harvard fans engaged in some good-natured smack talk with their cousins from New Haven, chanting "just like football," and "You can steal our coaches, but you can't take our rings." The latter was a reference to Yale's hiring of four Harvard football coaches this offseason following Harvard's dominance over Yale on the gridiron this past decade.
The crowd again left Lavietes happy, and I left with a new perspective on the joys of this heretofore annus mirabilis of Harvard basketball.
at HARVARD 66, YALE 51 02/18/2012
YALE 17-7 (7-3) -- L. Dendy 5-10 10-13 20; A. Morgan 1-5 5-6 8; G. Mangano 7-12 5-9 22; R. Willhite 3-8 1-2 7; J. Kreisberg 3-8 0-1 6; J. Pritchard 0-1 0-1 0; M. Grace 1-4 0-0 2; B. Sherrod 0-2 4-4 4; S. Martin 1-2 0-0 2; M. Townsend 0-1 0-0 0; R. Anderson 0-0 0-0 0; A. Cotton 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 16-43 15-23 51. HARVARD 23-3 (9-1) -- K. Casey 4-11 0-0 8; L. Rivard 2-2 2-2 7; B. Curry 6-9 5-6 18; O. McNally 3-3 1-2 9; K. Wright 5-7 0-0 10; S. Moundou-Missi 2-5 0-0 4; C. Miller 2-7 0-0 5; C. Webster 0-0 1-2 1; J. Travis 1-2 2-2 4; W. Saunders 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-46 11-14 66.
Three-point goals: YALE 4-12 (G. Mangano 3-4; R. Willhite 0-1; M. Grace 0-1; S. Martin 0-1; A. Morgan 1-4; J. Pritchard 0-1), HARV 5-10 (O. McNally 2-2; K. Casey 0-2; B. Curry 1-2; L. Rivard 1-1; C. Miller 1-3); Rebounds: YALE 21 (G. Mangano 11), HARV 31 (K. Wright 8); Assists: YALE 6 (A. Morgan 3), HARV 12 (B. Curry 5); Total Fouls -- YALE 16, HARV 18; Fouled Out: YALE-None; HARV-None.