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Harvard 82, BC 70

Harvard upsets No. 17 Eagles

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / January 8, 2009
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Jeremy Lin watches as much "SportsCenter" as anybody else. He saw what Boston College did to unbeaten North Carolina last Sunday.

He had seen BC guard Tyrese Rice's face every day since, and every time he saw an opportunity.

"That gave us extra motivation, knowing they beat the No. 1 team in the nation," Lin said.

And Lin and the Crimson seized that opportunity last night at Conte Forum, shocking the 17th-ranked Eagles, 82-70.

As the victory went in the books, the Crimson bench, which contained two injured starters in street clothes, bounced up and down like a popcorn popper.

In the history of the hallowed halls, the Crimson had never beaten a ranked team. Now it was as if they were beating the No. 1 team by proxy.

They had been talking about it for two days, Lin said, how even if they we're a banged-up 7-6 Ivy League team matched against a team that had just turned college basketball on its head, "We've got this opportunity."

They were to Boston College what the Eagles were to North Carolina.

Crimson coach Tommy Amaker told his players, "Let's try to do the same thing they did."

Everything about the way Harvard upset BC in front of 3,174 was the same as what happened in Chapel Hill. BC coach Al Skinner felt it.

"No doubt about it," he said. "They controlled the game, controlled the tempo, did the things that they had to do."

It was the mantra Skinner had ingrained in the Eagles. Be yourself.

Harvard was the annoying Ivy League team that passed the ball without so much as taking a dribble. The Crimson ran the clock to 10 seconds before making a move toward the basket. If BC's plan was to keep North Carolina from speeding, Harvard was trying everything to keep the game at a glacier's pace.

The Crimson held the pace where they liked it, and the only time it sped up was when they forced the turnovers (16) that led to fast-break (17) points.

Harvard took the lead on an ultimate Frisbee pass from Lin (game-high 27 points with 8 assists and 3 rebounds) beyond half-court to Andrew Pusar (13 points) under the basket for a layup.

"We got momentum, we got hope, we got confidence, and we just rode that all the way through," Lin, the junior guard, said.

They had fire. And after burning down the Smith Center, Skinner said, that's what BC (13-3) lacked.

"You can't play without that," he said. "As a team we did not have it. That's got to change."

As much as you wanted to believe it was a letdown, Skinner said it went deeper.

"We've done this before," he said. "This is who we are. We're capable of being this team and also capable of being another team."

The team that showed up last night was the one that turned the ball over 10 times in the first half and let Harvard shoot 60.9 percent in the second half (50 percent for the game) and was similar to the one that got off to a slow start against Sacred Heart, and the one that sold a tough Bryant team short earlier in the season.

"It's not one person," Skinner said. "I wish it was one person; we could make the adjustment. It is the personality of this team."

Amaker made no bones. The Crimson didn't run into a BC team at its best.

"We're fortunate they didn't play very well," Amaker said. "They didn't play up to their capabilities. But that's how funny the game is."

As much as Skinner repeated that the win over North Carolina was just one league win, he refused to chalk up this one as simply a nonleague loss.

"This is very disappointing," he said. "Not because of the loss. It's the way we played. If we would have worked hard and we would have lost the game, I could have handled that. We did not. We played like this before, unfortunately."

It's not about whether BC is as good as the North Carolina win or as bad as this Harvard loss, Skinner said, because "we're capable of both. We play up and we play down."

But it's a character assessment. The only glimmer of consistency was Corey Raji's 16 points and eight rebounds. Rice, meanwhile, finished with 14 points on 4-of-10 shooting with five turnovers.

"Like every team, you've got to be able to learn to handle success," Skinner said. "Obviously, we didn't handle success very well. The nice thing about it is it's a long season and you get a chance to recapture it, but we obviously did not handle our success very well. That's clear."

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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