PRINCETON, N.J. — The Streak, much to Harvard’s everlasting frustration, continues to grow. Because of it, the Crimson’s lead in the Ivy League has shrunk.
Faced with what was likely a must-win situation, Princeton had an imposing ace up its sleeve against the Crimson on Friday night: Jadwin Gym. The Tigers’ 58-53 win over Harvard was their 24th straight in the series at home, and left the teams tied in the Ivy League loss column, turning the final 11 days of the regular season into a scoreboard-watching game of match this.
Princeton (15-9, 8-2) and Harvard (17-8, 9-2) were picked 1-2 in the preseason poll, so it’s no surprise that they find themselves in a tight struggle. Nor was it a surprise that Friday night’s game came down to the wire. The difference, ultimately, was that Ian Hummer plays for Princeton, not Harvard.
Harvard had two chances to take the lead in the final minute: Wesley Saunders missed a shot with just under a minute left, and following a miss by Princeton, Moundou-Missi couldn’t handle a pass into the lane, falling out of bounds with the ball, 7.6 seconds left, and Princeton still ahead, 54-53.
Princeton’s Mack Darrow missed the front end of a one-and-one after getting fouled, but Hummer was there again, tapping the rebound toward halfcourt, where Denton Koon grabbed it and was fouled. He made two free throws, and after Harvard’s desperation pass was intercepted — by Hummer, naturally — T.J. Bray’s two free throws closed the scoring.
“What else can you say about the kid? I think he made every big play down the stretch for their team, whether it’s a basket, tip-in, free throws, getting fouled, slapping the ball out on the free throw miss, intercepting the last pass there,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said of Hummer. “He was a monster, and I mean that in the utmost complimentary way. I thought he willed their team.”
The Crimson came in with a 1½-game lead, with four games left. Now the teams are separated by just a half-game, with Princeton having four games left, Harvard three. After hosting Dartmouth on Saturday, the Tigers close with three road games: at Yale, Brown, and Penn. Following a visit to Penn on Saturday at the Palestra — no sure thing — Harvard finishes with home games next weekend against Columbia and Cornell.
“Knowing what would have happened if we got this game, it’s very frustrating,” said Harvard senior guard Christian Webster, who missed all five of his shots and was scoreless. “We’ve just got to take care of business, win these remaining games on our schedule. That’s what it comes down to.”
What Friday night came down to, in addition to Hummer taking over, was Harvard’s inability to rebound or generate second-chance opportunities. The Crimson outrebounded Princeton in the first meeting last month, helped by nine offensive rebounds, which they turned into15 second-chance points.
This time, the Tigers enjoyed a 37-24 rebounding advantage, and held the Crimson to only two offensive rebounds, both coming late in the game. Harvard had no second-chance points for the first time this season; Princeton had 11.
“I thought the game was won on the free throw line (19 for 22) and with our defense,” Princeton coach Mitch Henderson said. “We didn’t give up any second-chance points.”
A 3-pointer by Darrow with 9:58 left gave Princeton its biggest lead at 46-36. But Harvard kept the Tigers scoreless for the next 6:16, using a 10-0 run to tie the game on a baseline fallaway by Moundou-Missi, who paced the Crimson with 15 points and eight rebounds.
That set up the impressive closing stretch for Hummer, highlighted by the tip-out on Darrow’s free throw miss with 7.6 seconds left and Princeton nursing a 1-point lead. A winning play, one of many he made, especially late.
“I knew I couldn’t get to it,” Hummer said. “Moundou-Missi is a handful, but the miss was so perfect, it just came off the back iron, and I just hit it out.”
Harvard’s losing streak at Princeton dates to 1990. Many haven’t been close: a 37-point rout in 1992, a 27-point blowout in 2006. The average margin of victory for Princeton during the home streak has been a very comfortable 14 points.
The last five haven’t been as comfortable: 3-point wins in 2009 and 2010, a 4-point victory in 2011, and an 8-point win a season ago, when the Crimson were ranked No. 25 by the Associated Press.
The latest Jadwin loss means Harvard no longer controls its Ivy League fate. Three wins, at worst, would put the Crimson in a one-game playoff for the automatic NCAA Tournament bid. The margin for error has disappeared.
But there are no more trips to Princeton’s place.