After dropping seven straight in league play, the Harvard men’s basketball team was well on its way to adding another tally to its stretch of futility. Down by eight with 2:29 left to play, a familiar sense of despair wafted through Lavietes Pavilion. The cheerleaders fell silent, the fans began to collect their belongings, and the Princeton bench afforded itself an opportunity to sit back and relax.
That’s when the Crimson struck.
Head coach Tommy Amaker commanded his players to shift into a full press. The change was followed on the offensive end by a layup from captain and forward Brad Unger.
“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 everyone else.”
The onus was on Harvard to step up its defensive ability and do something it had done very little of during the season—get stops inside the paint.
A Princeton timeout late in the game did nothing to quell the Crimson’s rising ambitions.
Unger, junior forward Evan Harris, and freshman forward Kyle Fitzgerald transformed into goliaths, crashing the boards with vigor and cleaning up missed opportunities on offense.
“They couldn’t guard our big guys,” sophomore guard Jeremy Lin said. “Brad and Evan were just being physical down there, playing as well as I’ve ever seen them play.”
Shortly after following up a missed basket for the easy two, Harris raced down the court and intercepted a long pass attempt with 1:20 to play. Harris dished it off to junior guard Drew Housman, who missed the layup, but Harris once again smoothly collected the trash and put away another two points.
The basket brought Harvard within two—but there was still work to be done.
With 17 seconds remaining, Fitzgerald seized the moment and blocked a vital chance by the Tigers to seal the game. The rejection allowed Lin to run down the length of the court and send the game into overtime.
In overtime, the once resigned crowd came alive with the sense that victory was within reach.
The Crimson drained buckets at will, with Lin scorching the nets for a team-high 20 points.
The Princeton defense—left dumbfounded by Harvard’s out-of-nowhere resurgence—surrendered 15 unanswered points through the fourth and into the extra period. With 2:30 remaining in overtime, the Crimson found itself with a comfortable seven-point cushion—a far cry from its eight-point deficit five minutes earlier.
In contrast to Princeton’s withering defense, the Harvard ‘D’ manhandled its way to the most thrilling comeback of the season. Unable to match up with the Crimson’s front court, the Tigers would go without a field goal for the last 4:27 of regulation and the duration of overtime, as the home team left Lavietes with a 74-67 victory.
Harvard finished with four scorers in double-digits and shot 50 percent from the floor in the overtime.
The momentum from the comeback carried over into the next night, as the Crimson continued its winning ways and downed Penn to pull off the team’s first sweep of the Killer P’s since 1987.
“I was really pleased and proud of how [the team] performed in that environment and not just accept what looked like our fate,” Amaker said. “We battled, scratched, and clawed, and we found out that, sometimes, when you do those things, you get rewarded for it.”
—Staff writer Mauricio A. Cruz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.