In his final home game against Princeton, senior forward Michael Beal wowed the capacity crowd with his surehanded rebounding and a thundering dunk in the second half. It wasn’t enough to stem a final-minute collapse.
On Friday night at Lavietes Pavilion, Noah Savage burned the latest chapter of Harvard’s painful history with Princeton into the minds of the Crimson faithful, burying a last-second baseline jumper to give the Tigers a 60-59 victory. The shot completed a final-minute comeback from a six-point deficit and handed a devastated Harvard team its second straight loss on the opposition’s ultimate possession.
“Heartbreaking, for sure,” Crimson coach Frank Sullivan said. “Not only the most heartbreaking loss of the season, but in awhile.”
“Lady luck smiled on us for once,” Princeton coach Joe Scott said of his Tigers, who won their third straight league game after entering the Ivy season 2-10. “It hadn’t smiled on us too much this year.”
Up 59-53 with 1:16 left following a pair of free throws from senior center Brian Cusworth, Harvard (12-8, 4-3 Ivy) collapsed in the game’s final segment on both offense and defense.
After guard Edwin Buffmire snaked through the lane for a layup to pull Princeton (6-12, 4-1) within four with 55 seconds to play, Harvard freshman point guard Drew Housman, facing withering full-court pressure, attempted to toss a long pass down court to Cusworth. The seven-footer reached high in the air, but a collision with two Princeton players knocked the ball into the hands of Tigers forward Kyle Koncz.
It was then that Princeton senior guard Scott Greenman stuck a long-range dagger into the Crimson. Greenman entered with a history of breaking Harvard’s back, having scored Princeton’s final seven points as a sophomore in Harvard’s 58-50 double-overtime loss at Jadwin Gym in 2003.
Receiving the ball at the top of the key on a handoff from center Justin Conway, Greenman connected on a quick-release off-balance three to cut the lead to 59-58 with 31 seconds to play.
“He has a history with everyone,” Harvard captain Matt Stehle said of Greenman. “He’s a big-game player, and he hits big shots when it counts.”
Instead of fouling, the Tigers maintained their swarming full-court defense in the hopes of coming up with another steal. Attempting to find an open man in the backcourt, junior guard Jim Goffredo had his pass deflected and stolen by Conway with 20 seconds left. Determined not to let Princeton’s captain beat them again, several Crimson defenders hounded Greenman, only to have him find an open Savage for the winner with two tenths showing on the clock.
“That was a hell of a play [Greenman] made to keep dribbling around and find Savage,” Scott said. “There was still some calmness to what he was doing...That’s a pretty good look, a 16-foot jump shot with no one really on him.”
The last-minute collapse negated a strong second half for Harvard in which the Crimson shook off early deficits of 10-2 and 20-11 to start the game. Harvard took its first lead soon after the intermission, pulling ahead 31-30 on a fast-break bucket from senior swingman Mike Beal off a feed from Stehle. Beal then put a cap on a dominant 16-3 run with a steal and a breakaway dunk that opened the lead up to 37-30.
The Tigers took the blow and hung around, regaining the advantage on Koncz’s fifth long ball of the game, but another quick 12-3 Crimson run, capped by Beal’s driving three-point play, made the score 51-43 in Harvard’s favor with 5:11 to play. It was then that Princeton began its fateful comeback.
The Crimson was paced on offense by Cusworth, who poured in a season-high 20 points, while Stehle added 13 points and a game-high 15 rebounds. Beal finished with 11 points, nine rebounds, three assists and three steals.
Princeton’s Koncz matched Cusworth’s scoring effort with 6-of-12 shooting from beyond the three-point line, while Savage scored ten and Greenman had 10 and led all players with five assists.
The loss was the second straight crushing defeat for a Harvard squad that could very easily be in the thick of the Ivy title hunt with a couple of favorable bounces. Last Saturday in Ithaca, the Crimson lost in similarly agonizing fashion, squandering a seven-point lead to Cornell in the game’s final minutes.
“It’s tough coming out two straight games where you just get kicked in the face when you’re on the ground,” Stehle said. “We definitely should have had these last two games, there’s no question about that.”
—Staff writer Caleb W. Peiffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.