Harvard hoop hits more milestones

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Two more games, two more wins and two more firsts for the Harvard men's basketball team.

At 20-2 and 6-0 in the Ivy League, the Crimson are off to the best start in school history. They’ve also won 20 games in three straight seasons.

The wins were enough to get the Crimson back into the AP Top 25, at No. 25, and to move them up in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll from No. 23 to No. 21. The No. 21 ranking represents the program’s high-water mark, first reached in Week 9 of this season.

The latest W’s came at home, against Cornell 71-60 on Friday night and against Columbia 57-52 on Saturday night. While Friday night’s win came relatively easily, the one against the Lions was in doubt right up to the end -- when Oliver McNally, Brandyn Curry and Laurent Rivard helped Harvard shrug off an uncharacteristically poor free throw shooting night (21-of-32, 65.6 percent) by sealing the game at the line.

“I think our league is going to be a tough road to haul. We’ve said that from day one,” Tommy Amaker said before practice on Monday. “I think conference play at this time of the year is always incredibly challenging. So I wasn’t surprised that we had two very tough home games. We’re going to get, we think, everyone’s best shot in our conference.”

The Crimson will get two more best shots this weekend, when they take to the road for a Penn-and-Princeton weekend.

But for now they prepare, although Amaker did acknowledge the milestones reached to date when asked about them.

“Hearing it, it’s wonderful,” Amaker said of the program’s firsts. “Those are neat things. We’re hopeful to have more, to be very honest. We’re hopeful to keep plowing ahead.

“We’re not going to get bogged down and take days off and go soak it in. It’s nice and at some point when it’s all said and done we’ll kind of enjoy some of the things that we’ve been able to accomplish. But obviously now is not the time or the moment.”

The Crimson’s win over Columbia moved them past the 1945-46 team for the best overall start in Harvard history (19-3) and past the 1980-81 team for best Ivy League start (5-0).

They’re far from satisfied, however.

“Is it nice to hear? Of course it is. And it has meaning, absolutely,” Amaker said. “But today’s practice, and the rest of this week, and trying to get prepared, and keep plowing through, and plowing along, the road we’re on and the journey we’re on is most important.”

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.