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Harvard 79, Princeton 67

Harvard captures a share of Ivy title

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / March 6, 2011

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And now, they wait.

After the win, after the rushing of the court, after the emotion and the excitement and the odes to past players and coaches, Harvard’s immediate fate has been taken out of its hands. The Crimson did what they could. And now, their focus shifts to Philadelphia, to The Palestra, where Princeton will take on Penn Tuesday in the game that will decide the next step for Harvard.

Will the Crimson be forced to a one-game playoff with Princeton? Or will they head directly to the NCAA Tournament, something that hasn’t happened since their only trip, back in 1946?

As coach Tommy Amaker said, “We did what we could do. We recognize that, no matter what, we get a piece of this. And we’re hopeful that we’ll get a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament. We don’t know how it’s all going to shake out. But for tonight, what a night for Harvard, what a night for Harvard basketball.

“For generations, so many players and coaches have come through here trying to get to this point and how so many people watching and pulling and very hopeful, so it’s very meaningful to have a chance to do this for a lot more than just for the kids in our locker room. I think it means a lot for a lot of people.’’

Having done their part — beating Penn on Friday, and beating Princeton, 79-67, last night — Harvard can now only demonstrate its patience, counting down until that game on Tuesday, when it is determined whether it will win the Ivy League title outright or they will share it with the Tigers.

If Princeton beats Penn, the Tigers and Crimson will face each other in a one-game playoff at a neutral site for the Ivy League’s automatic bid to the tournament. It had not been determined last night where and when that game would take place.

But there is one goal down for Amaker’s Crimson. They have finally won their first conference title, erasing the zero that stood next to men’s basketball in the listing of Ivy League championships won by each school.

“Coach Amaker and I definitely talked about what’s been done at Harvard, and this is something that has never been done,’’ forward Kyle Casey said of when he was being recruited to Cambridge. “A lot of people have tried, come close, put in a lot of work and determination to try to do what we’ve done this season so far.

“It was beyond just our team and our players and our coaching staff. It was for everyone that’s been through this program and everyone that’s supported this program throughout all the years that it’s been around.’’

The Crimson were led by Casey’s 24 points in a back-and-forth game that saw nine ties and 18 lead changes in the first half. The game started quickly, with shots falling for both teams, and Harvard shooting 80 percent in the first eight minutes to Princeton’s 72.7 percent. It wouldn’t continue. But both teams did remain in lock-step, neither going up by more than 4 points before halftime.

“I thought his will was just absolutely outstanding,’’ Amaker said of Casey. “He put us on his back for quite a while out there on that floor offensively, just taking charge and leading the way for us and not allowing us to give in or let down.’’

Things changed after the break, with Harvard able to grab control and a 10-point lead seven minutes into the second half, due to the deft passing of Brandyn Curry, who recorded his second straight double-double (10 points, 10 assists). And while they didn’t play perfectly down the stretch, they did enough to end their five-game losing streak to Princeton. The Crimson shot 60 percent and made 27 of 30 free throws.

That left the Tigers sitting in their seats at the end of the game, watching as the Harvard student section spilled onto the court at Lavietes Pavilion. They sat, stonefaced, taking in the celebration, knowing they had a chance to decide their fate and Harvard’s.

“I think it’s important to understand what’s at stake,’’ Princeton coach Sydney Johnson said. “I think you need to see other people celebrate. You want to be that team.’’

As Princeton’s Kareem Maddox said, “It didn’t feel good.’’

It might not have for Princeton. But for Harvard? That moment couldn’t have felt better.

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.

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