NEWTON, Mass. -- Three years ago, they were plucky Ivy League upstarts looking for the upset against an ACC program in the top 25.
And they got it.
Just 72 hours after Boston College upset then-No. 1 North Carolina in the Dean Center, Jeremy Lin led a 7-6 Harvard squad into Conte Forum and scored 27 points to earn the program’s first win over a top-25 opponent.
The script has officially been flipped, and these days the Crimson are the established, top-25 team (a program-high No. 23 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll and No. 24 in the AP poll) with the target on their backs, and the Eagles are the ones who could more accurately be described as upstarts.
So when BC hosted Harvard on Thursday night at a sold-out Conte Forum, it was the Eagles who came out shooting for the upset.
“I give a lot of credit to their team; I thought they did a nice job and came out of the blocks early and came right after us and had us in a hole,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said of the Eagles.
Harvard missed its first eight shots, and BC made its first four shots (and six of its first seven) to take a 14-5 lead early. But once Brandyn Curry got the Crimson on the board from the field with a jumper, then chipped in two pairs of free throws, the visitors started to find their rhythm.
“I just felt that we had to get to the free throw line,” Curry said of his aggressive play in the stretch. “That’s something we always emphasize. I felt we had some good shots but they just didn’t go our way. We missed 'em.
“So at that point, I figured we had to get something going, and the easiest way to do that is get to the free throw line.”
The point guard sparked a rally that eventually pulled the visitors even and then pushed them ahead for good in what would become a 67-46 Harvard win. The run ensured there would be no upset.
Laurent Rivard played a key role in the comeback. The 6-foot-5, 215-pound native of Saint-Bruno, Quebec, entered the game with Harvard down nine just less than five minutes into the game. Rivard barely left the game the rest of the half, and when the horn sounded, Harvard had a nine-point lead.
Rivard hit his first two shots (both 3-pointers), grabbed an offensive rebound that he turned into an assist when he found McNally open for 3, then gave Harvard its first lead of the night when he converted a breakaway layup off a McNally steal. Rivard finished the first with 15 points (on 6-for-10 shooting, including 3-for-6 from 3-point range), two rebounds and two assists.
“We refer to our team like we have six starters,” Amaker said. Rivard is the sixth.
And while the sophomore can do serious damage from deep -- he finished with a game-high 18 points on 7-for-12 shooting, including four 3s -- the Harvard coach also likes his toughness and physicality on the other end of the floor.
“It started on defense,” Rivard said of the Crimson run. “Coach always says, ‘If we don’t start right, we can’t finish right.’ So it started on defense: We got stops and then that gave us momentum on the offensive end; we were able to convert and then we got another stop, and that’s how we made the run.”
After starting 1-for-9 (11 percent) from the field, Harvard finished the half 13-for-30 (43.3 percent) -- meaning it shot 12-for-21 (57.1 percent) after the bad start. And what’s more, many of those made shots came off Eagles turnovers. Harvard dominated in points off turnovers in the first half, converting nine BC miscues into 15 points. BC managed only two points off four Harvard turnovers in the first half.
“I thought our defense was outstanding, and we had to be,” Amaker said. “They’re a really good 3-point shooting team, and that was a point of emphasis for us, to see how well we could guard against their 3-point shooters. I was very pleased with how we played defensively.”
Indeed, after allowing the Eagles to shoot 14-for-22 (63.6 percent) in the first half, the Crimson held the home team to 4-for-22 (18.2 percent) shooting in the second half. The Eagles were 0-for-7 from 3 in the second half, after going 3-for-4 in the first half.
The win was the third in a row for Harvard (11-1) overall, and the fourth straight for the Crimson over the Eagles (5-8).
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.