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Dartmouth-Harvard Preview

AP - Sports

Armed with a historically high ranking for a program that dates back more than a century, Harvard responded by going out and playing its worst game of the season.

A similar effort this weekend will assuredly knock the Crimson back out of the polls - and drop them to the bottom of the Ivy League.

No. 22 Harvard (12-2) opens conference play Saturday by hosting Dartmouth at Lavietes Pavilion, where a home game against the struggling Big Green (3-12) could prove to be the perfect remedy for a momentum-killing performance.

One day after climbing up two spots in the rankings - in the first season that has ever seen the school make an appearance in the AP poll - the Crimson dropped a 60-54 decision at Fordham on Tuesday night. The culprit: A combination of strong Rams man-to-man defense and a subpar touch from the outside.

"Our shooting percentage was horrific," coach Tommy Amaker said. "If you can't throw it in the ocean from a row boat, it's going to look like you're not prepared."

Harvard has looked anything but unprepared over the past two seasons under Amaker. Now in his fifth year in Cambridge after stints at Michigan and Seton Hall, the former Duke star led the school to a record 23 wins and share of its first Ivy title a season ago.

He's followed up on the high hopes of the offseason - when the Crimson were tabbed for the first time to win the league in the preseason conference poll - by getting them off to a quick start and into the company of the nation's elite.

Whether Tuesday's setback is simply a temporary speed bump or proves to expose the flaws of a team that peaked early will begin to be determined Saturday. But in addition to what's sure to be a chip on its collective shoulder and a desire for redemption, Harvard will take the court with another distinct advantage - its home court.

The Crimson have won their last 21 games at Lavietes - a program record and the ninth-longest active streak in Division I. Making their success even more impressive is that they've only played four of their 14 games there so far.

"We talked about getting off to a better start," Amaker said following the Fordham loss. "Hopefully we don't need any wake-up calls."

Saturday's contest will begin a closing stretch of 14 of 16 against conference opponents; next week's games against stumbling Monmouth (3-12) and George Washington (5-9) are all that remain on the non-Ivy schedule, so a weekend bounceback can quickly regenerate lost impetus.

Harvard is led by a veteran group - all five starters returned from last season - featuring Ivy player of the year Keith Wright, who is averaging 10.9 points and 7.6 rebounds. Fellow forward Kyle Casey leads the team in scoring at 11.6 points per game.

Dartmouth comes into Cambridge having dropped five straight and nine of 10. On Tuesday night, it fell to Bucknell 67-59 despite the third double-double of the season by freshman forward Gabas Maldunas. The Big Green held the lead for 30 straight minutes, but fell apart late.

"We have to find the mental toughness that we currently lack to win these kind of games," coach Paul Cormier said.

Dartmouth leads the overall series 94-78, but the Crimson have taken the last four meetings and are 18-5 against the Big Green since 2000.

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