STORRS, Conn. – Tommy Amaker had coached teams that were ranked in the Top 25 before. Just not at Harvard.
The Crimson's first game ever as a ranked team didn't end the way they wanted but they gave a more-than-solid effort in a 67-53 loss to No. 9 Connecticut on Thursday night.
"I thought it got away from us for a bit but we certainly fought to get back into position, put some game pressure on them," said Amaker, who also coached at Seton Hall and Michigan. "But our kids have been able to handle things thus far in a very, very admirable way."
The Crimson burst onto the national scene this season with a win over then-No. 24 Florida State in the Battle 4 Atlantis, a tournament Harvard went on to win by beating Central Florida, which had beaten Connecticut in the semifinals.
They became the first Ivy League team to reach the Top 25 since Princeton in 1998. Harvard was trying for its first 9-0 start to a season since winning the first 10 in 04-05, 1904-05. The last Ivy League team to start 9-0 was Columbia in 1969-70.
The perfect start may be over but Harvard still has some big ideas about the season.
"We could have played better. We didn't play the way we have been in the season," forward Keith Wright said. "We're definitely confident still. This doesn't kill our confidence."
The game was far from a blowout but one that showed the difference in the talent level of the two teams.
"The first 12 minutes we played poorly then we turned up the defense and the last 5 minutes of the first half we let them back in," Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said. "In the second half we started to show better and better. Defensively we dominated them."
Jeremy Lamb had 18 points and Andre Drummond added 12 on 6-for-7 shooting for Connecticut.
"They're very talented, very big," Amaker said. "We didn't get much of anything easy around the basket which is probably going to happen to a lot of teams when they face this basketball team with their size and athleticism."
The Huskies (8-1) appeared ready to pull away twice, once in the first half when they went up nine points and again in the second when they went up by 16. But Harvard got back in the game by using its crisp passing attack and some solid work underneath.
"They're very good because they are mentally tough," Calhoun said of Harvard. "They run their stuff as well anybody in the country."
Kyle Casey had 12 points to lead the Crimson (8-1).
"I thought we played a tremendous first half," Amaker said. "I thought the difference was the beginning of the second half, how they took control of the game."
The Huskies used a 9-0 run to go up 28-19 with 6:44 left in the first half, but Harvard closed the half on a 9-2 run to get within 30-28. The Huskies didn't score over the final 5:18 of the half, missing five shots and committing two turnovers.
Connecticut turned it around quickly, opening the second half on a 9-2 run to re-establish the nine-point lead.
The run extended to 17-3 as the Huskies made seven of their first eight shots in the second half and a jumper in the lane by Lamb made it 47-31 with 12:18 to play.
Harvard, which missed 10 of its first 11 shots in the second half, went on an 8-0 run to get back in the game, but Drummond's fifth dunk of the game and a 3 by Lamb made it 52-39 with 8:44 to go. The Huskies managed to keep the lead to at least seven points the rest of the way.
"They are very disciplined and they don't take bad shots so we couldn't be relaxed," Lamb said of the Crimson. "We just had to try our hardest for us to get the win. They're a good team."
Drummond, who had five dunks in his six field goals, played for the first time this season without a protective mask he was forced to use after breaking his nose in practice.
"I was really excited to play without the mask," the 6-foot-11 freshman said. "I wasn't nervous at all. I just felt like I was home again. I could see out of the corners of my eyes. I felt a lot more aware."
Harvard made its first appearance in the rankings after winning the title at the Battle 4 Atlantis where they beat then-No. 24 Florida State. The Crimson couldn't make it two straight over a ranked team. They have two wins over ranked teams in their history.
"I told our kids I was very pleased with the effort that we brought and we came here with the idea of winning," Amaker said. "We certainly have played with that kind of spirit. I'm very pleased with our ballclub and I think we have bright things in front of us."
Connecticut improved to 116-4 against New England nonconference opponents at home under coach Jim Calhoun. It was the Huskies' ninth straight win over a ranked team, seven of which came in their 11-game streak to close last season with the school's third national championship.
Connecticut is 15-2 all-time against Harvard. The Huskies won last season's meeting 81-52.
"Last year we didn't belong on the court with them," Amaker said. "Tonight was different."