With 15 seconds left against visiting Harvard, San Francisco point guard Frankie Ferrari stepped to the free throw line having hit seven of his first eight free throw attempts.
The Dons led by just two points. With star scorer Charles Minlend largely shut down, having shot a season-worst 32.3 percent from the field (20-of-62), San Francisco had to rely on defense and foul shooting against a Tommy Amaker team that had won the Ivy League each of the past two seasons, and won four straight league titles in the first half of the decade.
“We had a funky week, just got out of our rhythm with the Arizona State game, having to go down to Monterey, might be a little tired, but Harvard, we fully expected it,” said head coach Kyle Smith, who, while head coach at Columbia during Amaker’s historic run, was well-acquainted with the Crimson. “They’re competitive. I know how tough they are. It felt like an Ivy League game.”
After the second miss, though, the Dons did what they’d done most of the night — got a stop. After a Spencer Freedman miss, Harvard lost the ball out of bounds. San Francisco called time out with 3.4 seconds to go, Jamaree Bouyea in-bounded the ball, Ferrari was fouled again. After seeing a 13-point lead evaporate, the Dons saw their captain hit both free throws to finish off a 61-57 win in their toughest game since the College Basketball Invitational at the end of last season.
“It’s like horse racing,” Smith said. “When your horse gets passed, does it quit or does it rally? We rallied. We didn’t quit.”
“That was a rough one,” Minlend said. “We needed a close one.”
In game where neither San Francisco nor Harvard distinguished themselves in the annals of shooting history, San Francisco didn’t hit its first 3-pointer until 32 minutes in, and let a 13-point lead slip away, only for Ferrari to take charge in crunch time.
“Jesus Christ,” Ferrari said. “It was kind of uncharacteristic with us, just looking at it. We had 13 turnovers. That’s uncharacteristic, and shooting like we did from three, 2-of-18’s uncharacteristic, but when you don’t do what you do well and you still win, that’s a great sign, so we’re happy with it.”
Ferrari tied for the team scoring lead with 14 points, but the majority of his points came at the charity stripe. Ferrari went 9-of-12 at the line, while the rest of the team went 10-of-16. Harvard as a team went 9-of-12 at the free throw line, with all but two of those tries coming in the second half, as they closed the gap and forced four lead changes over the final 7:17.
“They have a tremendous amount of expectation to do well, and they’re smart, tough kids, good talent, so it was more what good programs do,” Smith said. “Good programs are put together. They’re a really hard team to beat.”
Neither team started the game shooting the ball particularly well — the two teams combined to shoot 6-of-25 over the first 8:13 — but after some early adjustments down low, the Dons began to force bad shots, get their hands into good shots and limit forward Chris Lewis’s impact on the offensive boards, which limited the Crimson’s chances and helped contribute to 10 turnovers. Lewis, a 6-foot-9, 235-pounder and a former McDonald’s All-American nominee, still got his — scoring 16 points and pulling down five rebounds in 25 minutes — but a trio of Dons centers were able to limit his effectiveness.
When seven-foot Jimbo Lull picked committed a turnover and two fouls in the first 10 minutes guarding Lewis, San Francisco went with the more athletic Matt McCarthy, which paid off on both ends of the floor. Lewis didn’t grab a single rebound for the final 11:47 of the half, McCarthy went 4-of-6 from the floor and the Dons scored 24 of their 32 points before the break from inside the post.
“Jimbo got in foul trouble and I think that affected us a little bit,” Smith said. “Matt wore down on that guy (Lewis). He’s a load. Lewis is a really good player, strong. His dad played linebacker in the NFL, so he’s really tough. Matt had to guard him more than we’d like. Jimbo did a good job, and Taavi [Jurkatamm] came in late, and did a good job. We were down to our third center, but he did a good job. We were hoping to wear him down and get him foul trouble, and he kind of wore us down.”
The biggest difference between the two teams — the Dons shot 12-of-33 at the half, while the Crimson were 8-of-29 — was that San Francisco didn’t over-extend on defense, sending Harvard to the line for just two free throws. San Francisco, on the other hand, went 8-of-11 at the line before halftime, led by a 4-for-4 performance from Ferrari.
That’s not to say San Francisco (5-0) was clean before the half. The Dons turned the ball over 9 times, allowing Harvard to score 11 points, but San Francisco countered by doing something they normally don’t — scoring off the break. After a rebound from Jordan Ratinho off a shot tipped by Nate Renfro with 5:58 to go in the first, Jamaree Bouyea got out on the break for a lay-up. On the next possession, a Renfro steal led to a Bouyea run-out, and the Salinas native scored again, giving the Dons their biggest lead of the night at 24-11.
“We gave them a pretty good shot in the first half, and they just kept chipping away,” Smith said. “I thought we had some shots early in the second half, our confidence wilted. We had some good looks. If we can make them, maybe we can separate a little bit, but they just kept coming.”
The two teams combined to shoot just 2-of-10 from the field to start the second, but still, the difference was free throws. Lull was frustrating underneath, especially for Henry Welsh, forcing the Harvard bigs to make multiple moves down low and earn their points, without sending them to the line. The Crimson crept closer, but again it was free throws that made the difference.
Minlend — averaging 15.0 points per game, but held largely in check from the floor by Harvard — forced an airball by Noah Kirkwood, then sprinted the length of the floor for a lay-up, only to draw the foul on the baseline. He hit both his free throws to edge the lead back to 9 with just under 11 minutes to go.
Then, things began to turn. With the Crimson crept to within three thanks to a corner triple by Kirkwood, Ferrari went to strip Lewis under the basket, fouling him. Lewis hit both his free throws.
Ferrari then fouled Freedman coming across the lane, and the Santa Ana-Mater Dei product hit both ends of a one-and-one, giving Harvard their first lead at 50-49. Minlend responded with a tough lay-up in traffic to re-take the lead. The lead would change four times in a span of five minutes.
Once again, it was Bouyea (5-of-9, game-high 14 points) who helped swing the momentum. With 1:26 to go, he shook Freedman for a three from the top of the arc, San Francisco’s second of the night. They’d been 1-for-16 up to that point, and the crowd reacted as though the shot were the game-winner. It was far from it.
“They’re not going to quit. They came back and took the lead, then Jamaree made the shot,” Smith said. “It wasn’t pretty, because they were tough.”
Harvard had the ball with five seconds left, but another key defensive stop sent the ball to mid-court, where Ratinho took a foul.
San Francisco called time out with 3.4 seconds to go.
“I said, ‘We’ve been in this situation all the time, we practice this almost every day,'” Smith said.
Bouyea in-bounded the ball and looked to Minlend sprinting to the rim, one-on-one with against 6-foot-11 Robert Baker. He found Ferrari, who was fouled again. After hitting the first, Harvard called its last time out, but Ferrari didn’t flinch.
“Coming off missing two, I really wasn’t worried,” Ferrari said. “I knew the next two were going to go in.”
He hit his second freebie, and instead of getting iced, he iced the game.
“Frankie missed two, but we still stayed together, got our stops, and scrapped it out,” Smith said. “That last possession, got the ball there, got it in to Frankie again, but those build confidence. It’s hard to work on stuff like that, starting a program, because it’s almost obnoxious —we’re going to be in these situations to win all the time — we just hope to be competing and get there. We did, and it was good for us.”
California Ties for Harvard
Freedman’s father graduated from Berkeley, and was lightly recruited by the Bears before choosing Harvard out of Santa Ana-Mater Dei. Mason Forbes, a Crimson freshman, was a star at nearby Folsom, and was also recruited lightly by the Bears. His sister is currently a star freshman playing in Berkeley for Lindsay Gottlieb. Their father, Sterling Forbes Jr., played at Texas State and professionally in Argentina and with the Harlem Globetrotters.
The Forbes’s grandfather, Sterling Forbes Sr., was an All-America selection for Pepperdine, a 1960 draft pick of the Los Angeles Lakers, and spent three years with the Harlem Globetrotter.
Around the League
On the California swing, Harvard will next face St. Mary’s on Saturday at 6 p.m. The Gaels started the season 3-1, and faced a strong test in No. 15 Mississippi State on Wednesday. They were within three points of the Bulldogs — down 48-45 — with under 10 minutes to go in regulation.
San Diego stunned Pac-12 foe Colorado 70-64 on Tuesday, after nearly downing Washington on Nov. 12 (they fell, 66-63).
No. 3 Gonzaga edged No. 1 Duke, 89-87 on Wednesday in the Maui Invitational in what was arguably the game of the year thus far. That was after the Bulldogs battered Arizona, 91-74 on Tuesday.
Loyola Marymount has had a strong start, easily beating UNLV 61-50 and, two games later, stunning Georgetown 65-52. The Lions are the only loss on each of those teams preseason resumés thus far. UNLV beat Pacific 96-70 on Tuesday, but the Tigers (3-2) look to have some fight in them, too.
Given their strong start, the Dons will have a very solid RPI thanks to the WCC schedule. Given the development of Minlend, the 3-point shooting of Ratinho and the veteran presence of Ferrari, it’s not too far fetched to think that, if all goes right, San Francisco could have a chance at playing in the postseason. Notching wins over Pac-12 foes Cal and Stanford could go a long way towards servicing that ambition.