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Wednesday, January 1, 2014
Harvard bests BC for sixth season in a row

By Jack McCluskey

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- In basketball, as in life, there might be nothing as important as confidence.

When you have it, anything is possible. When you don't have it, it seems like everything is impossible.

The difference was on stark display Wednesday afternoon, when Boston College bused across town to play Harvard in Cambridge for the first time since 1991.

An issue with the shot clock just after the tip led to a disjointed beginning, and while the Crimson found the range rather quickly, the Eagles struggled for most of the first half. Harvard's defense, a hallmark of Tommy Amaker's program, certainly had something to do with that.

Olivier Hanlan
Wesley Saunders and Harvard's defense made things difficult for BC's Olivier Hanlan.
Rare was the wide-open look for the Eagles, with a Crimson defender contesting most, if not all, of the visitors' early attempts.

But while BC shot just 4-for-12 on 3-pointers in the first half, coach Steve Donahue said he didn't have a problem with the outside shot selection. He had a problem with what he thought was a tentative start by his Eagles.

"That's kind of our issue right now," Donahue said. "With 10 losses, our confidence is what it is. And when you get in situations like that, you're not confident."

The low point for the Eagles came with about three minutes left in the first half, after Olivier Hanlan missed a 3. Siyani Chambers pushed the ball upcourt, used a pick from Steve Moundou-Missi and then delivered a pass to the diving big man from Yaounde, Cameroon. Moundou-Missi converted the layup, got a whistle and drained the free throw after a timeout to put the Crimson up 20.

The play brought a scream and a fist pump from Chambers and a roar from the capacity crowd at Lavietes Pavilion, with the hosts in complete control against their ACC foes.

But BC finished the half with a 12-6 run -- capped by a Joe Rahon buzzer-beater over Chambers -- showing signs of waking for the first time in the first game of the new year.

"We had a sensational start to the game and they ended the half very well, and then from the second half on they were clawing their way back in it," Amaker said. "Give a lot of credit to Steve and his program to battle the way they did. I thought we had to come up with some big-time defensive plays to maintain that cushion."

Playing with more energy and shooting a much better percentage after the half, the Eagles steadily chipped away at the Crimson lead. When Ryan Anderson made a layup with about 7:30 to go, BC was down just five -- the closest it had been since trailing 6-1 early in the first half.

After Wesley Saunders answered with a layup for two of his game-high 21 points and Jonah Travis hit two free throws to push the lead back to nine, BC went back to Anderson on the block.

The 6-foot-9, 216-pounder backed down Travis and then tried to spin back to the middle for a layup. But Kyle Casey came over from the weak side and swatted the shot attempt away, the ball ending up at the other end in the hands of Chambers, who drilled a wide-open transition 3.

BC never got back to within single digits, and Harvard won 73-58, its sixth straight win in the series and eighth straight win this season.

"It was pretty important," Travis said of Casey's block. "We always feed off our defense, that's where we look to draw energy. We always say that some people, their plays mean more than just the stat itself. So a block from him means a lot of momentum and a lot of energy for all of us. So we kind of look to feed off plays like that to get us going."

Again, it comes back to confidence.

"A lot of the [problems], I think, is just not feeling good about themselves and indecision in critical times in the game," said Donahue, whose Eagles fell to 4-10 with the loss. "Today, I thought we did a good job in the second half of persevering and getting some shots to fall and then getting some stops."

Maybe if Anderson was feeling a little more confident, he tries to dunk that attempt, not lay it up. Maybe Casey still blocks it -- he already had one spectacular block on an Anderson dunk attempt in the first half -- but maybe he doesn't, maybe he fouls Anderson and gives the Eagles big man an and-1 attempt.

And who knows what could've happened after that?

But it didn't happen that way Wednesday, because one team is supremely confident right now and the other is not.

"When the game has gotten tight, whether we've been on the road or at home, we've had confidence," said Amaker, who got career win No. 300 as his team improved to 12-1. "That's a big part of this whole process, is to really believe -- believe in our system, believe in our philosophy, and for them to believe in themselves, believe in their teammates.

"They've shown that, and they've come through for us many, many times."

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