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Harvard 74, Brown 68

Crimson stage another surge

Brown can’t keep Harvard down

By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / February 26, 2011

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PROVIDENCE — Oliver McNally doesn’t view himself as Harvard’s first option. In his mind, each player does things a little different. And McNally? Well, he just does whatever is left.

“I’m just the last part,’’ McNally said. “Those other guys get it started.’’

When Harvard needed a turnover last night against Brown, McNally fought for the steal. When the Crimson needed to extend their lead, McNally was there with a 3-point play. Harvard didn’t need a historic performance to beat Brown, it needed McNally.

The junior guard scored a team-high 20 points and added five steals to help Harvard erase a 15-point deficit and seal a 74-68 win at the Pizzitola Center to maintain its half-game lead in the Ivy League.

“He was the catalyst for us the entire evening,’’ Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “He was vocal. He had a lot of spirit and fight in him . . . We don’t come out of here alive with a victory without Oliver McNally in every way — his presence, his spirit, and obviously his numbers speak for themselves. His overall performance was outstanding.’’

In the first meeting between these teams, Feb. 12, the Crimson erased a 24-point deficit in the second half to claim the largest comeback in program history. McNally watched the comeback from the bench, slowed by an ankle injury.

Last night, it was looking as if Harvard (21-4, 10-1) might need another jaw-dropping performance to get past the Bears (10-15, 3-8). Brown led, 41-30, at halftime thanks to forward Tucker Halpern and guard Sean McGonagill combining for 25 points. Brown dominated the glass early, limiting Harvard’s second-chance opportunities.

“I wish I could figure out what it is about us that we get in the position we’re in before we have to rally like that,’’ Amaker said. “We’ve shown a lot of heart, there’s no question about it.’’

At halftime, McNally said he and his teammates were disappointed in their production, shooting 38.7 percent from the field. The offensive flow that was missing in the first half was found over the final 20 minutes.

Harvard used a 10-2 run to take a 48-47 lead, capped by Kyle Casey’s jumper with 12:04 left. McNally drew a charge a few seconds earlier to give Harvard possession.

McNally forced a turnover moments later and drove the length of the court for a layup, getting fouled in the process. The free throw gave McNally a 3-point play and Harvard a 53-49 edge with 10:59 to play.

Brown pulled within 67-65 on Halpern’s 3-pointer with 4:01 to go, but the Bears couldn’t get any closer.

Harvard faces another challenge tonight at Yale. The Crimson beat Yale, 78-75, Feb. 11.