Trailing 61-53 with 2:29 to play, things weren’t looking up for the Harvard men’s basketball team.
But, with 15 unanswered points—eight to close out regulation and force overtime, and the first seven of the extra period—the Crimson (7-18, 2-7 Ivy) came back from a second-half, 12-point deficit to defeat Princeton (5-18, 2-6 Ivy), 74-67, and snap its seven-game losing streak at Lavietes Pavilion on Friday night.
“It’s been a while since we’ve been able to celebrate in the locker room after a game,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “I’m just incredibly proud of our guys, given where we’ve been in some of the tough losses we’ve had, and then being down 12, and just digging in.”
Down eight, junior guard Drew Housman found captain Brad Unger in the post. Unger scored a right-handed hook in the lane to kick off the run with 2:21 to play.
“More than anything it was do or die at that point,” Unger said. “You can’t get down by too many against Princeton—six or eight points against Princeton is 12 against anyone else.”
Sensing the Harvard attack, Princeton called a timeout, giving Amaker an opportunity to fire up his squad.
“We talked about playing with a passion there to see if we could put ourselves in a position to make a run at it,” Amaker explained of his pep talk. “We needed a stop. I talked to them about not rushing or forcing things on the offensive end and just not being careless with it.”
Out of the timeout, the Crimson locked the Tigers down defensively, getting the stops it needed, and, more importantly, turned those into conversions on the offensive end.
Back in possession, sophomore Dan McGeary drove the lane but came up empty. Junior forward Evan Harris was there to clean the glass, though, and score two to bring the Crimson to within four.
Then, Harris came up big again, immediately intercepting Princeton’s long-pass attempt to break the Harvard full-court press with 1:20 to play. Housman then drove the lane and missed a short jumper, but Harris was there yet again to tip the offensive board to a wide open freshman Kyle Fitzgerald, who was able to lay it in. Now a two-point game, Fitzgerald proved his worth on the defensive end, blocking the Tigers’ Kyle Koncz on an attempted lay-in, giving Harvard the ball and the chance to tie with 17 seconds to play.
Wasting no time, sophomore Jeremy Lin started left then drove around his man on the right side and put home the easy layup with nine seconds remaining to tie the score at 61. Princeton’s Koncz missed a driving layup on the other end, and two Tiger tip-in attempts went in and out as the buzzer sounded.
“Lin was tremendous for us offensively, with the game-tying bucket sending us to overtime, and [with] his ability to get to the basket,” Amaker said.
The Crimson owned overtime.
Just 22 seconds in, Lin drove to score on a short jumper in the lane in overtime’s first possession. The Crimson struck again on a McGeary three and another Fitzgerald tip-in to put Harvard up, 68-61, with 2:30 to play and to cap the 15-0 run.
The Tigers would never get closer than five, with its only points in overtime coming from six free throws by senior forward Noah Savage, who had a game-high 22 points.
Princeton went the final 4:27 of regulation and the full five minutes of overtime without notching a field goal.
“I think it started with the defense, as most of it does,” McGeary said. “We kind of picked it up, locked them down. They made some mistakes and we capitalized. When you play hard defense, you get rewarded on offense.”
Lin led the Crimson with 20 points and seven rebounds, and three other Harvard players posted double-digit performances. Unger and Harris were efficient from the inside—Unger scored 16 on 8-of-10 shooting, while Harris sank 14, shooting 5-of-6. McGeary sank three three-pointers en route to 16 points.
Housman, who scored 43 points in last weekend’s two games combined, was held to just two points on dismal 0-of-11 shooting.
Koncz added 14 for the Tigers, while junior Jason Briggs tallied 11, several off of back-door cuts that burned the Crimson. Princeton made a team record 19-of-19 from the free-throw line.
After a back-and-forth start, Princeton used a 13-4 run to take a 23-14 lead with 4:58 to play in the first half. But, seven straight points by Harvard brought the game close again, and the Tigers took just a 29-26 lead into the locker room at the half.
Princeton would again extend its lead after the intermission, turning a 42-39 edge into a 53-41 margin—its biggest lead of the game—with just 7:27 to play.
But, the Crimson hung tight and pulled within four at 55-51 with the help of a McGeary long ball and three free throws from him, after he was fouled shooting from deep.
Princeton extended the margin to eight, before Harvard would make its big run and get the victory.
“It’s very relieving, that’s pretty much how we all feel,” Lin said. “All of the games we’ve been losing have come down to the last two minutes, come down to the wire, and finally we were able to pull one out. It’s big for our confidence, and it shows a lot about this team not giving up.”
—Staff writer Kevin C. Reyes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.