Harvard knew that in order to beat Princeton for the first time in 11 tries, it would need someone to step up at the right time.
Junior forward Matt Stehle did just that. Then he fell down.
With the Crimson (8-11, 3-3 Ivy) up 52-50 with 1:48 remaining and the ball in the Tigers’ possession, Stehle took the biggest charge of his career. It was all part of his plan.
“I’ve taken maybe one charge in my entire career, so it was complete luck. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” Stehle said afterwards. “[Will] Venable just came at me and...I just kind of flopped and thank God they gave me the call.”
The charge was the biggest play in what was the biggest game of Harvard’s season to date. It came on the heels of an 8-2 spurt that brought the Crimson back from its biggest deficit of the second half, and it negated what would have been a crucial game-tying basket for the Princeton (10-8, 1-3 Ivy).
The Tigers were unable to claw back during the game’s closing moments, trailing by at least a basket the rest of the way en route to a 61-57 defeat.
The charge wasn’t Stehle’s only clutch contribution. He came in as a 71.4 percent foul shooter—good for eighth in the Ancient Eight—and did not disappoint down the stretch. He converted all four of his attempts from the charity stripe in the final 45 seconds, helping keep the Tigers at bay.
TEAR DOWN THAT WALL-ACE
Preseason Ivy League player of the year Judson Wallace was questionable for the Tigers this weekend, having missed most of practice during the week with a bad back. He played only 17 minutes in Princeton’s 50-42 loss to Dartmouth Friday night and according to Coach Joe Scott, he was a game-time decision for the contest in Cambridge.
“Today I had to ask him, ‘Are you going to be able to go tonight?’ And he wasn’t sure.”
After posting only seven points and two boards against the Big Green, he led all scorers with 23 Saturday night, lighting up the Crimson from inside and out on 9-of-15 shooting.
He was especially effective after the intermission, notching 14 points in 17 minutes.
DOING THE LITTLE THINGS
After the game, Joe Scott’s message was clear.
“The game came down to the little things, and we didn’t do the little things well and they did,” Scott said. “We’re playing in bad luck right now, and I think there’s only one way to get yourself out of that bad luck, and that’s to do the little things.”
There were several little things to which Scott could have been referring.
The Crimson came into the weekend with Ivy’s top two rebounders in junior center Brian Cusworth and Stehle, 9.8 and 8.4 per game, respectively, and the league’s number two rebounding offense.
The Tigers, on the other hand, came in dead last on both the offensive and defensive glass, and it showed.
“There are rebounds that are there to be had, and when they’re there to be had, you have to get them. That’s winning. That’s winning basketball,” Scott said.
Princeton grabbed only 17 rebounds—to Harvard’s 29—and gave up nine crucial second-chance points in the second half. The Crimson’s final put back—a Brian Cusworth layup off a feed by senior point guard David Giovacchini that put the Crimson up 54-50 with 1:05 to play—gave it some breathing room for the first time since the opening minute of the half.
Another enormous little thing for the Crimson was its foul shooting. After converting only 11 of its first 18 attempts from the line, the squad hit eight of its final nine to seal the victory, including the four from Stehle and 3-of-4 by sophomore guard Jim Goffredo.
Princeton, which came into the game atop the Ivies and ninth in the nation with a 76-percent success rate from the line, hit only 7-of-13. Scott Greenman, the Tigers’ junior guard who buried the Crimson with clutch three-pointers in both tilts last year, missed all three of his foul shots, including a pair that could have given Princeton the lead with 3:05 to play.
Finally, turnovers—which had been Harvard’s Achilles heel in close games earlier this year—were not a game-breaker for the Crimson. The team gave the ball away only 14 times, five less than their average number coming in.
“[Turnovers were] critical to the success in today’s game,” Giovacchini said. “We took care of the ball when we needed to.”
POINTS IN THE PAINT
Giovacchini led the Crimson in assists again, this time dishing out six helpers. He is second in the Ivies with 4.3 assists per game...Kevin Rogus got off 12 threes, converting on five of them, despite Scott’s claim that his team “[was not] supposed to let Rogus get off one three-point shot.”...Seventy-eight percent (95-of-122) of Greenman’s field goal attempts this year have been from long range, including five of six Saturday night...Rogus, who led the team with 17 points, has attempted 121 of his 146 field goals from downtown—a clip of 83 percent—including 12-of-14 against the Tigers...Princeton opened 1-3 in conference play for the first time since 1994-1995 and got swept on its trip to Hanover and Cambridge for the first time since 1983-1984. It finished both seasons 10-4...The Crimson improved to 6-0 when leading at the break. It is 2-11 when trailing...Harvard came in to the game 0-10 when scoring fewer than 67 points.
—Staff writer Gregory B. Michnikov can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.