The Harvard men's basketball team has fallen on hard times as of late and things will only get rougher as the Crimson embark on a crucial two game road trip this weekend when it travels to perennial powerhouses Princeton and Penn.
Harvard (12-10, 5-5 Ivy) is coming off two tough losses at Brown and Yale this past weekend and is hoping to snap its recent three game losing skid. The recent slide has dropped the Crimson into a fifth place tie with Columbia in the Ivy League standings and has virtually taken the Crimson out of contention for the conference championship.
The Crimson had a terrible weekend last time out, with poor shooting and costly turnovers resulting in a 66-58 loss to Yale on Friday night followed by a 90-82 loss to Brown on Saturday night.
Meanwhile, Princeton (11-10, 6-3) and Penn (9-15, 6-3) are in a three-way tie with Yale for first place in the conference and both teams will need to post multiple victories this weekend to keep pace.
Harvard will be looking for a little redemption when it takes on Princeton tonight at Jadwin Gym. Less than two weeks ago, Harvard suffered a heartbreaking, last-second loss to the Tigers at Lavietes Pavilion.
In that game, sophomore guard Pat Harvey scored a game-high 20 points and captain Dan Clemente added 19 points including a clutch jumper with 7.4 seconds remaining that put Harvard up 67-66.
Following a time-out, however, Princeton junior guard Ahmed El-Nokali pushed the ball up court and dished the ball off to sophomore guard Kyle Wente, who released an off-balance three pointer that sliced through the net as time expired giving Princeton the 69-67 victory.
More recently, the Tigers are just coming off a stunning 66-49 loss to Cornell last weekend. Wente led the Tigers with 14 points, but Cornell dominated the game from start to finish behind 15 points and 9 rebounds from Ray Mercedes. The Big Red had four players score in double figures and the Tigers never got closer than 10 points.
Harvard moves on to Penn tomorrow night where they are hoping to sweep the season series with the Quakers for the first time in 59 years. Penn is also coming off a surprising loss, as it fell to Columbia for the first time since 1992.
The Quakers got off to a sluggish start and trailed 36-23 at the half. Although Penn outscored Columbia 34-33 in the second half, they were not able to generate enough offense to recover from the slow start. Penn forward Ugonna Onyekwe led the Quakers with 15 points, but Penn shot a dismal 31 percent overall from the field.
Harvard will be hoping for a repeat performance of their last matchup with Penn. When the two teams met two weeks ago, the Crimson pulled off a stunning upset which ended the Quakers' streak of 25 consecutive conference wins.
In that game, the Crimson jumped out to an early lead which it never relinquished as it cruised to a 77-62 victory over the top-rated Quakers. Clemente led the way with 29 points and the Crimson were aided by Penn's uncharacteristically sloppy play that included 23 turnovers.
For Harvard to prevail this weekend, they will need more big numbers from Clemente, who is currently seventh on Harvard's all-time scoring list. With 1,399 points, Clemente is rapidly closing in on sixth place, which is held by Kyle Snowden '97 at 1,429 points
The Crimson are in desperate need of offensive production right now. Although Harvard remains the league leader in scoring with a 73.2 point-per-game average, it shot a combined 37.9 percent from the field in last weekend's losses to Brown and Yale.
The weekend series will be critical for Harvard's paper-thin hopes of an Ivy League championship. Following the Brown loss, Head Coach Frank Sullivan was less than optimistic regarding Harvard's chances.
"History will tell us that in the '90's, the champions in the Ivy League had either zero losses or one loss, and in the '80's it was three losses, occasionally four," Sullivan said. "For the most part, four losses is not going to do it in the end,"
Just one-and-a-half games behind the three conference leaders, Harvard is still mathematically within reach. With only four games remaining, though, Harvard's only hope is to run the table and then pray for help from Dartmouth, Columbia, Brown, and Cornell.
A single loss this weekend will effectively end any lingering championship aspirations for the Crimson. .