Buoyed by its historic success last weekend, the Harvard men’s basketball team (8-18, 3-7 Ivy) travels to Columbia tonight and Cornell tomorrow night to challenge a pair of the Ivy elites.
The timing could not be better for the Crimson. Last weekend, the squad notched a thrilling 74-67 overtime victory against Princeton, and a convincing 89-79 win over Penn. The two schools have traditionally been the class of the Ivy League, winning a combined 19 straight Ivy League titles. Last weekend marked the first time that Harvard swept the “Killer P’s” since 1987.
“Two good wins, needed wins, home wins,” head coach Tommy Amaker said. “[It was a] good weekend for a lot of different reasons, and [I have got] a positive feeling about our kids as we try to finish out this stretch of the season.”
A strong finish will not come easily as the Crimson faces some of the Ivy’s stiffest competition in this weekend’s slate. Tonight, Harvard travels to Columbia (13-12. 6-4 Ivy) where it looks to avenge a Feb. 16 loss.
In the last meeting, the Crimson led by as many as nine points but squandered its lead over the final 14:56. Junior guard Drew Housman had 25 points and seven rebounds and junior forward Evan Harris had 14 points and eight rebounds. Their efforts were not enough as Harvard eventually succumbed to Lions’ formidable frontcourt.
“They are physical; they are strong. The Baumann kid [Columbia’s leading scorer John Baumann] is a load—he’s a force,” Amaker said.
Baumann dropped 20 points and snatched 12 rebounds against the Crimson while fellow teammate and senior Ben Nwachukwu added 16 points in limited minutes.
However, Harvard’s big men have been playing their best ball of the season as of late. Senior forward Brad Unger and Harris combined for 71 points against Princeton and Penn over the weekend.
“I thought that they played their hearts out,” Amaker said of his post players. “I was happy for all our front line guys, but those two in particular.”
Not to be overlooked is the recent stellar play of sophomore Jeremy Lin. The guard notched 41 points in two weekend contests and was named Ivy League Player of the Week.
Columbia comes into the game placed third in the Ivy League standings, winners of five out of its last six games. Cornell (18-5, 10-0 Ivy), on the other hand, leads the Ivies and has a chance to secure the nation’s first bid to this season’s NCAA Tournament with a win tonight against Dartmouth.
The Big Red is led by a pair of sophomores, Ryan Wittman and Louis Dale, who average 15.5 and 12.7 points-per-game, respectively. Adam Gore, the 2005-2006 Ivy League Rookie of the Year, rounds out a trio that has carried Cornell to the top of the league and earned the Big Red a vote in the AP’s Top 25 poll on Feb. 18.
Harvard’s first game against Cornell ended in heart-breaking fashion. Playing the role of David to the Big Red’s Goliath, the Crimson led Cornell 71-66 with 31 seconds to go. A goal-tending call on a put-back cost Harvard two points, a turnover led to an easy lay-up, and a five-second violation handed the Big Red the ball with 9.3 seconds left. On the ensuing inbounds play, Cornell’s Alex Taylor scored his sixth straight point on an easy lay-in, and the Big Red escaped Cambridge with a 72-71 win.
“I feel like we should have beaten them; it just came down to execution,” Harris said.
Last year, the Crimson swept the Big Red in its two meetings, including a 65-64 thriller at Lavietes that ended with a Harris lay-in with 0.8 seconds remaining.
Tomorrow night, Harvard has the opportunity to settle this season’s score at Newman Arena. During Cornell’s current 12-game winning streak, the Crimson is one of only three teams to lose by single digits. And after its superlative play last weekend, the team seems primed to play the role of spoiler.
“It’s revenge,” Harris said, “but also, we just want to go down there and play the best we can.”