For the first time since the 1986-87 season, the Crimson swept the “Killer P’s,” coming from behind against Princeton and withstanding Penn’s comeback efforts.
In an area that’s been a struggle all season long, the Harvard men’s basketball team used a solid inside presence, led by the combo of captain Brad Unger and junior Evan Harris, to beat up Penn in its 89-79 victory over the Quakers on Saturday night at Lavietes Pavilion.
Unger followed his 16-point performance against Princeton with a career-high 21 points and six rebounds on Saturday, including three three-pointers. Harris added 20 points and 10 rebounds of his own to go with three blocked shots on the night. Harris was perfect from the field in the first half (5-of-5) and finished 7-of-10. Both players had 16 points by halftime.
“It was great,” Harris said of the inside performance. “The guards did a great job of getting us the ball. We trusted the offense, and everything worked out great.”
Harvard coach Tommy Amaker was equally thrilled by the newfound intensity displayed by his big men.
“When you have your front-line guys give you 41 points and 16 rebounds, that’s a tremendous effort out of your two starting interior players,” Amaker said.
Rebounding was also the big story of Penn’s 73-69 victory in Philadelphia over the Crimson three weeks ago, as the Quakers out-rebounded Harvard, 44-32. But this time, the tables were turned.
The Crimson had a 42-34 margin on the glass Saturday night, but the Quakers again burned Harvard on the offensive glass, snagging 21 offensive rebounds and converting 25 second-chance points.
“I thought their ability to get on the offensive glass—we talked about it coming into the game, we knew it was a huge thing for us when we lost at Penn—they were just relentless,” Amaker said. “They got 21 offensive rebounds—that’s a lot.”
Quaker senior Brian Grandieri chased down five of those offensive boards, finding himself in the right place at the right time under the glass for several easy putbacks. He finished with a team-high 19 points and seven rebounds.
IN THE BIG HOUS’
While junior guard Drew Housman couldn’t get his shot to fall this weekend, he still found a big way to contribute.
Following his 0-for-11 performance from the field on Friday night, Housman shot just 1-for-8 on Saturday evening, but the 6’0” guard’s final stat line was still impressive.
Housman notched a career-high 11 rebounds and a season-high eight assists to go along with his eight points, while burying clutch free throws (6-of-6) down the final stretch to maintain the Crimson’s lead. Housman had just two turnovers.
“Drew’s a lion-heart,” Harris said of his teammate. “He has really stepped his game up recently and we’ve had more success—that’s great. Drew’s playing amazing.”
On a night where Jeremy Lin (21 points), Unger, and Harris stole the show offensively, Housman provided the intangibles that the team needed to get the victory.
“I thought his presence in the floor game was tremendous,” Amaker said of his point guard. “I look at his assists to turnovers, then you see other things, his free throws and then, just getting 11 rebounds—that’s an amazing stat for your point guard. It just goes to show you he’s rotating down, he’s helping, he’s getting long rebounds, and he’s chasing balls down.”
Penn sharpshooter Tyler Bernardini was relegated to the bench with foul trouble early in the first half and was limited to just 19 minutes.
“Thank goodness,” Amaker said of Bernardini’s limited minutes. “He’s a terrific shooter and a very good offensive player. Driving the ball on the offensive end, sometimes that’s the best way to defend players like that because you can pick up fouls on them. They can’t shoot it and score it if they’re not in the game.”
Still, he scored 12 points, and led a late charge, hitting a big three-pointer in front of the Quaker bench to bring Penn to within eight points with 3:47 to play. He picked up his fifth foul and left the game with 1:00 to play.
KILLING THE KILLER P’S...FINALLY
Not only did this weekend’s victories break Harvard’s seven-game losing streak this season and infuse a bit of momentum into the team as it closes out Ivy League play, but it also broke a long streak of abysmal play during Penn/Princeton weekend.
The last time that the Crimson swept the weekend was in the 1986-87 season at Lavietes Pavilion. The only other sweep since 1957-58, when the teams began traveling together, was in the 1984-85 season on the road.
“Coach was telling us that we have a chance to do something that only one other team in history has done,” Lin said. “That was part of the motivation. The guys worked hard all summer and fall, and we just wanted to come out and show everyone that we could play with Penn and Princeton.”
“I think it’s a tremendous accomplishment,” Amaker said. “I think they’ll feel incredibly satisfied with that kind of achievement here this evening, this weekend. It allows them to put themselves in a position that many other players who were back here for our Alumni Reunion Weekend—they know how difficult that is.”
—Staff writer Kevin C. Reyes can be reached at email@example.com.