After 10 straight losses to Princeton and 27 defeats in the last 28 meetings between the two teams, the Crimson (8-11, 3-3 Ivy) erased the memory of a long series of frustrations by beating the Tigers 61-57 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 layup to give the Crimson the lead, junior 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.
A three-pointer by guard Scott Greenman, his fourth of the night, gave Princeton a four-point lead—its largest lead of the second half—with 5:40 showing on the clock.
The Crimson, however, 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.”
Princeton started the game looking very businesslike after its shocking loss to Dartmouth on Friday night, and—after a series of crisp offensive sets yielded several layups and open threes—held a 14-9 lead with 10:32 to play. But Rogus checked in from downtown to halt a 7-2 Tigers run, igniting the capacity crowd of 2,030, and sending Harvard on a hot stretch that would see it grab a 28-22 halftime lead.
Harvard’s strong perimeter play was crucial in light of Princeton’s smothering interior defense. The strong-armed tandem of post men Judson Wallace and Mike Stephens held Stehle and Cusworth to just nine shots combined.
“[When a team] tries to focus too much on one area, the other area opens wide up,” Cusworth said. “And Kevin did a great job stepping up with the fact that they were collapsing on Matt and I.”
While Rogus provided the spark, the entire team pounded the boards all night long, keying the Crimson’s upset. Harvard out-rebounded the Tigers 29-17, and 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.”
Princeton shot a gaudy 61 percent from the floor in the second half, a figure that would normally be good enough to shore up a win. But Harvard routinely beat the Tigers to the ball, and limited them to one shot and out on offense. Princeton grabbed only five boards after intermission to the Crimson’s 17, and Harvard didn’t allow the Tigers to score a single second-chance point.
“Keeping those extra possessions away from Princeton, any Princeton team, is absolutely critical,” Sullivan said. “Our guys did an excellent job on the defensive boards.”
The Tigers were carried much of the way by the gritty play of center Judson Wallace. It was questionable that he’d start, due to a bad back, but he 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 in light of 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 led 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.”
—Staff writer Caleb W. Peiffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.