Harvard has long boasted that it’s the United States’ first university, but the 375-year-old school will get to experience something new this weekend.
The 24th-ranked Crimson will play their first home game as a member of the AP Top 25 on Saturday and try to clinch their best start in 66 years against surging Saint Joseph’s.
Harvard (11-1) made its debut in the AP poll on Dec. 5, but a loss at No. 9 Connecticut three days later helped drop it from those rankings. It moved back into the Top 25 thanks in large part to its 3-point shooting.
The Crimson have knocked down 53.5 percent of their attempts from beyond the arc during a three-game win streak and hit 10 of 20 shots Thursday while rallying from an early deficit for a 67-46 win at Boston College. Laurent Rivard had four of those 3-pointers en route to a team-best 18 points in his program’s 1,000th victory.
The sophomore guard from Quebec has made 11 of his team’s 23 3-pointers in the three victories and helped the Crimson play their normally strong defense. They’ve allowed an average of 49.7 points during their win streak and 54.3 per game this season.
“We like to tease him that he’s the second-best shooter in the city,” coach Tommy Amaker said. “The other is Ray Allen. We take pride in what the Celtics do, how they find Ray Allen. We feel like we have to find Laurent.
“I get upset because every time I think he shoots the ball I think he’s going to make it. I know it’s not fair to him, but that’s how much confidence I have in him.”
Rivard will try to continue that success against Saint Joseph’s (10-3), which has allowed opponents to shoot better than 42.0 percent from 3-point range in five of their 13 games.
The Hawks, though, have prevailed in four of those contests and are limiting teams to 37.0 percent shooting overall. Sophomore forward C.J. Aiken has helped those efforts by recording 4.3 blocks per game.
Aiken had just two blocks Wednesday, but he and his teammates limited visiting Morgan State to 25.4 percent shooting during an 81-50 victory, the Hawks’ fifth in a row.
Among the victories in that run was an 80-71 home win over then-No. 19 Creighton on Dec. 10. If Harvard can avoid becoming another upset victim, it will clinch its best start since its 1945-46 squad was 19-1 en route to its only NCAA tournament appearance.
Hawks leading scorer Carl Jones (18.5 ppg) paced his team with 29 points in the win over Creighton and scored a team-best 16 in Wednesday’s victory, coach Phil Martelli’s school-record 310th. Sophomore forward Halil Kanacevic contributed 12 assists, a career-high seven blocks and eight rebounds.
“Halil was the best player on the court,” Martelli said. “He’s an interesting player. He’s a very, very, very interesting player.”
Martelli was the Saint Joseph’s coach during the only other game against Harvard, an 87-69 victory on Dec. 30, 1998.
The Crimson, though, enter this matchup with a program-best, 20-game home win streak. Saint Joseph’s is 8-26 on the road over the past three seasons, including 1-2 this season.