Harvard 85, Brown 78

Harvard gets it half right

Crimson roar back to defeat Brown

By Mike Carraggi
Globe Correspondent / February 13, 2011

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times for the Harvard defense against Brown last night at Lavietes Pavilion. Fortunately for the Crimson, the best came in the final 20 minutes and proved a catalyst for an improbable comeback from a 22-point halftime deficit in an 85-78 victory.

The win was essential to the Ivy League title hopes of Harvard (18-4, 7-1), which remained a half-game behind Princeton, which edged Cornell, 57-55.

For Crimson coach Tommy Amaker, his team’s second-half resurrection without cocaptain Oliver McNally, who hurt his left ankle in the first half, could be a key point in what is turning out to be a magical season.

“Every great team and great journey has some of these moments where you kind of point back,’’ said Amaker. “I thought our guys really rallied around that mantra.’’

Brown (9-13, 2-6) left Harvard shellshocked in the first half, abusing the nylon by hitting on 63.3 percent (19 of 30) of its field goals, including 8 of 12 from long distance, and sinking all seven attempts from the free throw line. The visitors drilled their final eight shots, including Adrian Williams’s catch-and-shoot heave from deep. Overall, the Bears hit nine consecutive shots from the 6:16 mark of the first half to 19:19 of the second.

Conversely, Harvard couldn’t buy a layup. The Crimson were only able to coax a pair of field goals — both by Kyle Casey — out of its confused-looking offense during Brown’s 20-8 run to end the half. The hosts shot a respectable 44.8 percent in the opening 20 minutes, but misfired on 6 of 7 treys.

The biggest shot Harvard took in the game was also in the first half, when McNally got twisted while driving the lane, and tumbled to the court. He was helped off by teammates, favoring his left ankle, and later exited the arena on crutches.

Without one of his captains and staring down a 22-point deficit, Amaker had his work cut out for him at halftime.

“Coach said, ‘This is just going to be part of our story, hopefully, and at the end of the season look back and say this is what helped us win the Ivy League,’ ’’ said guard Christian Webster.

It didn’t take long for Harvard to turn the tables on the Bears. The Crimson took their turn playing long toss, hitting on 8 of 11 threes and shooting 68 percent in the second half, double the percentage Brown shot. Webster, who finished with 18 points, all in the second half, including a quartet of 3-pointers, sparked the rally by connecting from deep with 15:50 left, narrowing the gap to 58-44.

Freshman Laurent Rivard, who started the second half in place of McNally, hit two big threes to ignite a momentum swing. His first pulled Harvard within 10 for the first time since Brown started its first-half spurt.

“With the flow, we were feeling it,’’ said Rivard, a native of Quebec. “We were moving the ball around and got open looks. It just means that we’ve got Oliver’s back.’’

As Harvard’s offense crept closer, its defense made a complete 180 from the first half. Anchored on the interior by Casey and Keith Wright, who combined for five blocks, the Crimson held Brown to 25 second-half points. Wright, who led the Crimson with 22 points and 14 rebounds, was particularly huge. As the team’s other captain, he helped fill the hole left by McNally.

“I felt it was my job to set the tempo on defense,’’ said Wright. “We know we weren’t going to score any 12-point baskets out there, so we had to take it shot by shot.’’

The Crimson finally took the lead for good after a barrage of threes, with Webster’s giving the hosts a 68-66 advantage with 8:20 left. From there, much like Brown had done in the first half, Harvard poured it on.

It was Harvard’s 15th straight win at home, and it came before a four-game road trip that begins Friday at Cornell.