Harvard rematch has BC’s attention

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / December 9, 2009

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In their minds, “One Shining Moment’’ was already playing on endless repeat.

Boston College had stunned the No. 1 team in the country, North Carolina, last Jan. 4, and even if it was the middle of the season, the Eagles had the feeling that confetti was showering them.

“Everyone was high on the win,’’ Biko Paris recalls. “That’s normal for a team that beat the No. 1 team in the country. I don’t think we were still focused on the goals at hand.’’

Or, for that matter, the game that lay ahead. The Eagles had cracked the AP Top 25 for the first time in 13 months. The opponent three days later was Harvard, an Ivy League underdog for most of the decade, as unassuming as opponents come. BC hadn’t seen much of the Crimson on film, and the fact that they had lost four of seven coming into the game didn’t make them any more noticeable.

But after Harvard came into Conte Forum and stunned the Eagles, 82-70, behind a 27-point performance from then-junior guard Jeremy Lin, the Eagles had no choice but to take notice.

Recalling the atmosphere in the locker room after the loss, Corey Raji distinctly remembers feeling “shock and frustration.’’

“We just thought we were going to go out and win because we had ‘BC basketball’ on our chest,’’ Raji said. “It was a big letdown. We were dwelling on the game before and not thinking about the game ahead of us.’’

“After Harvard came in and knocked us off, it opened our eyes and closed our mouths and opened our ears to we’re not as good as we think,’’ Paris said.

All the Eagles could do was look in the mirror.

“You had some question marks,’’ BC coach Al Skinner said. “Everyone had question marks about themselves. You don’t question yourself after you win. You question yourself after you lose. It was our lack of respect for our opponent that allowed it to happen.’’

The win propelled Harvard into the national spotlight and was the jewel of a 14-14 season.

Skinner said the loss “knocked us for a loop.’’ The Eagles lost their next three games before rebounding and reaching the NCAA Tournament.

With the Crimson returning to Conte Forum tonight, playing better than they were at this point a year ago, the lessons the Eagles learned from last year serve as motivation.

“We were waiting for this game since last year,’’ Raji said. “After we lost to them, we were waiting for this time to come around.’’

What’s for certain is that it won’t be a surprise this time. The Crimson nearly added Connecticut to their list of upsets, falling short, 79-73, in Storrs Sunday. Lin has only gotten better in his senior season, leading the team in scoring (17.8 points), rebounding (5.6), and assists (4.6); he dropped 30 on the Huskies.

“You get 30 against Connecticut, you’ve got to be playing well,’’ Skinner said. “Last year, we didn’t really know who he was. This year, obviously, we’re a lot more familiar with him.

“This year they’re a much better team than they were a year ago. They’ve gone out and played some good competition. The scenario’s very different.’’

In the past few seasons, there was at least one game in which a team kicked the chair out from under the Eagles. In 2007-08, it was a 57-51 loss to Robert Morris. The year before that, it was a 77-63 loss to Vermont. Last year’s letdown against Harvard still lingers with the players.

It is something Skinner recognized before the season, when he said, “The fact of the matter is, as long as they are here, that will be a constant reminder, because I don’t think you should forget where you come from. For that game, that’s who you can be.’’