It was a night many Harvard fans felt might never come.
After 10 straight losses to Princeton, and 27 defeats in the last 28 meetings between the two teams, the Crimson (8-11, 3-3) erased the memory of a long series of frustrations by beating the Tigers 61-57 on Saturday evening at Lavietes Pavilion.
“It feels great,” captain Jason Norman said, “I’m just so happy right now. I can’t even really describe it.”
The two teams found themselves locked at 50 with 2:15 to play, following a tense second half battle that saw four ties and eight lead changes. After junior center Brian Cusworth tipped in senior point guard David Giovacchini’s missed lay-up to give the Crimson the lead, sophomore forward Matt Stehle drew a crucial charge on Princeton guard Will Venable. What could have been a game-changing three point play for the Tigers turned into a backbreaking turnover, and Harvard seized the momentum to hold on for the victory.
“Everybody on the bench had a lot of confidence that we were going to pull this out,” Norman said. “Determination down the stretch got us this victory.”
Harvard held a six point advantage at halftime, but Princeton (10-8, 1-3) quickly erased that deficit with a 10-2 burst after the break to take a 32-30 lead with 16:07 to play. Princeton led by as many as four, 48-44, with 5:40 to play, but the Crimson refused to go away, and ran off a 6-0 run to retake the lead for good. Harvard maintained its resolve down the stretch, hitting 7-of-8 free throws in the final 40 seconds to seal the victory.
“That’s the experience,” senior guard Kevin Rogus said. “We kept our composure, and were able to fight back and do what we needed to do.”
Harvard was led by the long-range heroics of Rogus, who hit five treys and finished with 17 points—a night after he was smothered by Penn’s man-to-man defense. Rogus and sophomore guard Jim Goffredo, who came off the bench for 10 points, were able to get free and spot up behind the arc against Princeton’s zone.
“The zone helped the ball move a little bit better,” Harvard coach Frank Sullivan said. “[Rogus] just felt more comfortable and made some big shots.”
Solid work on the boards all night long was a key to the Crimson’s upset. Harvard out-rebounded the Tigers 29-17, limiting Princeton to one shot and out on offense. The Crimson also grabbed nine offensive boards—none bigger than Giovacchini’s follow of his own missed shot with 1:11 to play, which he then dished to Cusworth, who stuffed it home for a 54-50 lead.
“From [when the score was] 48-44, I don’t think we got a loose ball or rebound the rest of the game,” Princeton coach Joe Scott said. “Give them credit for hustling.”
The Tigers were carried much of the way by the gritty play of center Judson Wallace. Questionable to start due to a bad back, the senior stepped up to pour in 23 points on 9-of-15 shooting, including 14 in the second half to keep Princeton close. For Harvard, Cusworth’s two big late baskets netted him 10 points to go along with 10 rebounds, while Stehle added nine points.
The win was even more special due to last year’s twin losses to the Tigers—a wrenching double-overtime defeat at Princeton, and a 60-51 loss at home in which the Crimson lead up until the final minutes.
“We were so close the past couple of years,” Rogus said. “To finally come around and get it is a big relief.”