Who is the best team in Massachusetts?
For the last few years, the answer has been Harvard: The Crimson was a top-100 team nationally in each of the last five seasons, going 16-3 against their Bay State brethren in that time. But after Sunday’s 69-56 defeat at Boston College — on the heels of a 69-63 loss to UMass earlier in the week — Harvard’s reign has ended, at least for a year.
BC is the region’s historic power, but it didn’t look the part in the first half against Harvard. With the Crimson keyed in on primary scorer Eli Carter, the Eagles sputtered to just 16 points by halftime, shooting 24% from the floor and occasionally just dropping the ball on the perimeter.
But after intermission, the Eagles started making one extra pass to find open three-pointers and layups on seemingly every possession. They torched the weary visitors for 1.47 points per possession in the second half to pull away easily. “In the first half, we weren’t playing the right way. The ball wasn’t moving well, they were kinda not guarding a couple guys on our team, and we weren’t finding the open guy,” BC coach Jim Christian said. “I thought we did a much better job of that as the game went on.”
BC has competition for the Massachusetts crown: Northeastern is the top-ranked team on KenPom, by a hair over the Eagles, despite falling to 4-1 with a loss Sunday. Boston University is right behind both after winning at South Florida this weekend. UMass was expected to rebuild this year, but the Minutemen are off to a 3-0 start, albeit not against the toughest competition.
Harvard coach Tommy Amaker will soon be best-suited to answer the question: The Crimson will complete the full Massachusetts tour for a second straight year, visiting Holy Cross, Northeastern and Boston University in the next two weeks. “We’ve always taken a lot of pride in how we’ve been viewed locally. It’s important for us to play local teams,” Amaker said. “It’s been great for the institutions, and hopefully the fans and alums. We’ve been successful through the years, and obviously we’re taking a few lumps right now, but it’s been wonderful to have the opportunity to do that.”
Three more thoughts from the Conte Forum:
1. Harvard needs to launch threes. The Crimson’s first option on offense is almost always a post-up for Zena Edosomwan — who scored 20 points Sunday with a 43% usage rate — but option 1a has to be a three-pointer from Corbin Miller, Corey Johnson or Tommy McCarthy. Their shooting percentage at BC was outstanding, but the denominator was not: Harvard shot 7-for-13 from beyond the arc, while too many possessions ended in turnovers or ill-fated midrange floaters.
Johnson, especially, is looking like a special scorer; he made three of his four treys, including an ankle-breaking step-back in Harvard’s late comeback attempt. The rookie also had five assists against two turnovers, and he should be the Crimson’s go-to guard for now. “He’s going to draw so much attention because of his shooting ability, and he’s a willing passer. He’s completing plays, and completing the right pass,” Amaker said.
2. Free throw shooting is a problem. Despite their second-half defensive woes, the Crimson would have been in the game late if not for horrid free throw shooting. After going 9-23 from the stripe Sunday, Harvard is shooting just 59% for the season. It’s still early, and some correction will come, but maybe not much: Many of the fouls are being drawn by Edosomwan (a career 61% foul shooter) and Chris Egi (5-12 as a freshman). They combined to shoot 5-15 at BC, and if they keep taking most of the free throws, expect Harvard’s percentages to remain low. “We practice it every day, we just didn’t do a good job of executing that, and it’s something we’ll continue to work on,” Edosomwan said.
3. The takeaway is … ¯_(ツ)_/¯? If you came in a Harvard optimist, you could take a lot of good things away from Sunday’s game: The first-half defense was outstanding; the Crimson has two legit scorers in Edosomwan and Johnson; and the main problem areas, free-throw shooting and turnovers, should improve.
But if you were a pessimist, Sunday’s game could also support your case: Harvard has little depth, and its defense got shredded in the second half; the lone true point guard, Tommy McCarthy, had zero assists and five turnovers; and even though the Crimson shot above 50% from outside and their opponents played 20 sloppy minutes, they still lost by double digits.
If you didn’t know what to make of Harvard before, you probably still don’t.