NEW HAVEN, Conn. — What with all the lights, cameras, and raucous action pervading the John J. Lee Amphitheater in New Haven this Saturday (March 12), one could be forgiven for thinking that the one-game playoff pitting the Harvard men’s basketball team against Princeton was a scripted affair. Unfortunately for the 2011 Ivy League co-champion Crimson, it was the Tigers who managed to score the Hollywood ending.
After clawing their way back from a 7-point deficit at the half, Princeton — which shot miserably in the opening stanza (33 percent) — forged a 10 to 2 run in the final six minutes capped by a fall-away jumper at the final buzzer. With Harvard up 62-61 in the closing seconds, Doug Davis of Princeton netted the game-winning field goal (promptly reviewed by the referees on the monitor) to silence the sizable Harvard entourage while unleashing a flood of orange upon the hardwood. Most devastatingly, the last-second win ensured the Tigers the Ivy League’s coveted bid to the NCAA tournament.
With the loss, the Crimson — a team that managed to secure a share of the Ancient Eight title with a 79-67 victory over Princeton just one week prior (the program’s first) — fall to 23-6 on the season. However, having managed several key victories over quality programs all season long, Harvard (12-2 in the Ivies) still holds hope for earning an at-large bid for the NCAA tourney. (During Sunday’s NCAA selection show, the Crimson learned it had not made the at-large bid.) For the latest in Harvard hoops news.
“It’s been a tremendous season for our conference and an outstanding basketball game by two teams that certainly played their hearts out,” said Harvard coach Tommy Amaker following the loss. “Congratulations to Princeton for being Ivy League champions, as well as we are, but also for the bid to the NCAA tournament. I thought they played a tremendous game. We’re certainly heartbroken, devastated — as you can imagine being on the end of that. But both teams obviously could very well have felt that they deserved to win this basketball game. And I think that that would be a fair statement.”
It sure would. Consider, for instance, that even as Harvard bested the Tigers in shooting (51 percent to 42), Princeton overtly dominated the boards (36 to 24; including a 14 to 5 advantage on offensive rebounds). And though the Crimson edged their opponents with points in the paint, it was the Tigers who triumphed in the department of fast break points. Meanwhile, each team recorded five blocks; approximately the same number of steals (Harvard’s three to Princeton’s two); essentially the same number of assists (11 for the Crimson, 10 for the Tigers); and the same goes for personal fouls and turnovers. Indeed, this was anyone’s ballgame. Perhaps most damaging to Harvard, however, was the team’s subpar free throw performance. Entering the game as the nation’s second-best free throw shooting team, Harvard was just 10-of-16 from the charity stripe. Princeton, meanwhile, knocked down 14 of its 15 attempts.
Despite that obvious setback, Harvard received stellar play customary from it’s starting five, including a game-high 16 points from recently crowned Ivy League Player of the Year Keith Wright. The junior forward also swatted away four Tiger attempts in the first half alone — a feat that dictated the tone of the opening stanza to enable Harvard’s 32-25 halftime advantage. Fearless junior guard Oliver McNally, meanwhile, shot 58 percent from the field for 13 points in a grueling 38 minutes of play. At the guard and forward spots, respectively, Brandyn Curry ’13 and Christian Webster ’13 each contributed 12 points. Curry also reeled in 5 boards and dished out a game-best 6 assists. Lastly, sophomore Kyle Casey pitched in 7 points, 4 boards, and a rejection.
Regardless of Harvard’s tourney status, Crimson fans should take heart: this Crimson club — the first to bring an Ivy title to Cambridge since, well, ever — is not losing a single player to graduation. Crimson foes, meanwhile, take note.