Harvard 78, BC 69

Harvard rolls by BC

Crimson win 3d straight in series

BC guard Reggie Jackson soars past a Harvard defender on his way to a reverse layup. Jackson scored 18 points but it wasn’t enough to keep pace with the Crimson. BC guard Reggie Jackson soars past a Harvard defender on his way to a reverse layup. Jackson scored 18 points but it wasn’t enough to keep pace with the Crimson. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)
By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / January 6, 2011

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When the Harvard basketball team beat Boston College in 2009, it was easy to pass it off as an upset. The Eagles were coming off a victory against top-ranked North Carolina and clearly let down.

When it happened again last season, BC had no credible excuse and the loss was one of the transgressions that led to the firing of coach Al Skinner.

The unlikely streak reached three last night as the Crimson beat the Eagles, 78-69, before a crowd of 4,129 at Conte Forum.

Perhaps the question this time should be what is going right for Harvard under Tommy Amaker and not wrong for BC.

Eagles coach Steve Donahue, who came to Chestnut Hill from Cornell, can appreciate what Amaker has done in four seasons. That Harvard has been able to beat BC by an average of just less than 10 points three straight years is a sign of how strong that program has become and why it’s the best in Boston.

“It’s huge,’’ Donahue said. “There’s a lot of good basketball being played in the Ivy League and to be honest I’m proud of those kids and how they’re playing. I don’t want them to beat me, but I know the obstacles to win at that level. They’re a very good team.

“That kind of win is huge for your program and your kids. You can sell that.’’

Amaker, who does not have a senior on his roster, started three sophomores and got 23 points from freshman Laurent Rivard off the bench. Junior forward Keith Wright, the Crimson’s tallest regular at 6 feet 8 inches, added 15 points. Christian Webster had 13, Oliver McNally 12, and Brandyn Curry 10.

BC (11-4) made four more baskets than Harvard (10-3) but the Crimson were 23 of 24 at the line and turned 14 Eagles turnovers into 21 points.

“We were expecting them to come out hard. Coach Donahue always has his teams ready to play and they play hard,’’ Wright said. “It says a lot about what Coach Amaker has done with recruiting and how well he had us prepared for us to beat them again.’’

Before he left Cornell, Donahue tried to recruit Rivard, a forward from Quebec by way of Northfield Mount Hermon. Rivard decided on Harvard and could be the Ivy League’s rookie of the year. He is averaging 12.6 points and has made 35 of 36 free throws.

At 6-5, Rivard is a classic swingman who can score from inside and out. He hit three 3-pointers last night and was fearless going to the basket.

“He’s a strong kid, he’s a tough kid. We were thrilled when we were able to get him to come to Harvard,’’ Amaker said. “He’s not afraid to take big shots and our kids have a lot of confidence in him. It says a lot to the other players when you have a young kid who comes in and works as hard as he does.’’

With the students on break, there were more empty seats than full ones at Conte and BC drew little energy from the crowd. Still, the Eagles took a 26-19 lead with 7:03 left in the first half on a layup by Joe Trapani, who finished with 21 points. BC was 11 of 16 from the floor at that point, scoring with little resistance from the Crimson.

The Eagles, who had won eight of their previous nine games, fell apart as Harvard scored 16 of the next 19 points, holding BC to a single basket over a span of nearly eight minutes.

Rivard had 8 points during the run as Harvard built a 35-29 lead in the first minute of the second half.

Harvard led by as many as 12 points and was never really threatened until BC cut the score to 70-65 with just more than two minutes left. Amaker eschewed a timeout, signaling his players to take their time and they got a layup from Rivard with 63 seconds left to stifle the rally.

Harvard’s near-perfect free throw shooting, time after time, took momentum away from BC.

“We weren’t able to match their mental toughness,’’ Trapani said. “Each of us was trying to win that game on our own. Harvard deserved to win.’’

Peter Abraham can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.