Commentary

BC has no answers for Harvard

Updated: January 5, 2011, 11:44 PM ET
By Jack McCluskey | Special to ESPNBoston.com

NEWTON, Mass. -- Basketball is a zero-sum game. There's only one win to be had, so there's always one winner and one loser.

But there were two No. 0s in Wednesday night's Boston College-Harvard matchup, and it just so happens that each was his team's best playmaker. For the Eagles, it was Reggie Jackson; for the Crimson, it was Laurent Rivard.

This season, Jackson has been named Atlantic Coast Conference player of the week once; Rivard has been named Ivy League rookie of the week twice. On Wednesday, Rivard got the upper hand as the Crimson won 78-69 in Conte Forum.

Jackson, a junior, got BC off to a quick start, scoring seven of his 18 points in the first four minutes. With primarily Jackson running the offense, the Eagles played patiently, moving the ball and finding the open man for layups and unchallenged 3-pointers.

When Joe Trapani made a layup with 7:03 remaining in the first half, the Eagles led 26-19 and looked like they might pull away from the visitors from the Ancient Eight. But the Crimson turned up the intensity on both ends of the floor and went on a 14-3 run to close the half.

And though he struggled from the field in the first half, Rivard was right in the middle of that run. The 6-foot-5 freshman from Saint-Bruno, Quebec, was just 2-for-7 shooting (including 1-for-4 from 3-point range) before intermission, but when the ball wasn't falling he put it on the floor, went to the hoop hard and got fouled. During the Crimson run, Rivard was fouled on drives three times and was a perfect 6-for-6 from the line.

"The kid's an absolute workhorse," Harvard senior big man Keith Wright said. "He works hard, his work ethic is definitely paying off. He's always shooting in the gym and he played hard and we needed him to."

In his collegiate debut against George Mason, Rivard took 11 shots and missed them all. But that didn't faze him, according to Wright. "He works on his game and when you work on your game you have that confidence. That night after he went 0-for-11 he was in the gym until 2 a.m. getting shots up. So we have confidence in him. We're still going to pass him that ball if he's open and we're going to expect him to make those shots."

Against BC, Rivard shook off the shaky start and made 5-of-8 shots in the second half, including two 3-pointers.

Asked after the game what he thought of the Northfield-Mt. Hermon product, Trapani wasn't willing to cede much.

"He made some shots," Trapani said simply. "He made a lot of 3s. That's happened to us before."

BC coach Steve Donahue was more forthcoming.

"I know Laurent very well, we recruited him very hard at Cornell. Terrific basketball player," Donahue said after Rivard scored a game-high 23 points. "Probably played his best game of his career. I thought he was playing with good confidence. Good shooter, good basketball IQ, good toughness."

And when Rivard checked into the game defensively two minutes into the second half, it was clear he had the Eagles' attention. As Jackson dribbled downcourt to initiate the offense, instead of a play, Jackson called out, "Who's got Rivard?"

While BC's offense picked up in the second half, the defense wasn't there. Trapani said the Eagles weren't able to match the Crimson's mental toughness.

"I think the main thing was they were comfortable," Trapani said. "They were comfortable stepping into their shots, hitting their jumpers, getting into the lane, pick-and-rolls. That's been the story, BC versus Harvard: We're not able to make stops. And we weren't able to tonight when we had to."

Donahue said he was "a little disappointed" because he felt that once one thing went wrong, the Eagles allowed it to snowball and they ended up losing to the Crimson for the third season in a row.

[+] EnlargeSteve Donahue
AP Photo/Mary SchwalmBC coach Steve Donahue was disappointed that his team couldn't fight through its struggles in losing to Harvard for the third straight season.

"I thought we're down four at the half and it felt to these guys, because they've been through so much negativity over the last couple of years -- and [against] Harvard in particular -- they felt like they were pressing, the weight of the world's on your shoulders," he said.

And though Trapani said none of the Eagles made a point of getting up for the Crimson, he admitted that something took BC out of its game.

"I feel like we came out almost like we were trying to beat Harvard on our own, each of us was trying to beat Harvard on our own," the senior said. "That obviously hasn't worked in the past."

With Wednesday's loss, the Eagles finished the nonconference portion of the season at 10-4 (they're 1-0 in the ACC). That's better than some expected in the first season under Donahue, and worse than it could've been. Losses to Harvard and Yale (75-67 on Nov. 18) mean the Eagles are 0-2 against the Ivy League under Donahue, and just 1-4 against Donahue's old stomping grounds since the 2008-09 season.

Part of that, Donahue said, might be that teams like Harvard are a tough matchup for BC.

"Teams at that level, most of the kids are probably a little smaller and rely on different styles of play than most teams at the high major level," he said. "The extreme difference in [the size of] South Carolina and Harvard is huge. Kids are used to guarding differently [in high major conferences].

"These teams here [in the Ivy League], if they can get a baseline of physicality to match the high major teams, our guys aren't used to guys making three or four passes as they drive it and find guys and spread you out."

So while the Eagles shot 50.9 percent for the game, made 7-of-18 3-pointers (38.9 percent) and finished with 29 made baskets to Harvard's 25, they weren't able to overtake the aggressive Crimson, who shot 50 percent in the second half to finish at 44.6 percent for the game, thanks in large part to the free throw disparity.

Harvard took 24 freebies and made 23 of them; BC took just eight from the stripe and made only four.

"We had our streaks where we were able to fight back, but they made shots and they hit their foul shots. They did everything right," Trapani said. "They obviously deserved to win the game."

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and contributes to ESPNBoston.com.

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