The bend-but-don’t-break strategy finally caught up with the Harvard men’s basketball team.
After winning its first five Ivy League contests by an average margin of 5.4 points, the Crimson fell to Columbia by 15 on Sunday, failing to capitalize on an opportunity to go up 1.5 games on Princeton in the conference standings.
“I think there’s a lot of disappointment in how we played against Columbia, there’s no question about it,” said Harvard coach Tommy Amaker, whose team was outshot 50.9 to 42.9 percent by the Lions. “We’ve lost some tough games, and this last one was a little bit of a head scratcher.”
The Crimson doesn’t have much time to get its act together, as Harvard (13-7, 5-1 Ivy) welcomes Penn (5-17, 2-3) and Princeton (11-8, 4-1) to Lavietes Pavilion this weekend.
The Crimson has failed to sweep a Penn-Princeton weekend in seven of its last eight opportunities.
Part of the difficulty may stem from the teams’ contrasting styles. While Princeton boasts one of the conference’s biggest lineup, starting five players 6’5” or taller, Penn relies more heavily on its athleticism.
“We really try to prepare for both teams in practice,” co-captain Christian Webster said. “But most importantly, we just try to focus on us and not really get caught up in what the other team does. We feel like if we do what we do effectively and execute, then that will take care of itself.”
Assuming both Harvard and Princeton take care of business on Friday night against Penn and Dartmouth, respectively, Saturday’s matchup between the Crimson and Tigers will determine the Ivy League favorite heading into the second half of conference play.
The preseason pick to win the Ancient Eight, Princeton has the league’s top defense as well as the conference’s top forward—6’7” senior Ian Hummer.
The Crimson, which starts four perimeter players, has struggled to contain talented bigs this season. In back-to-back contests in early December, Harvard surrendered 23 points to both 6’8” BC forward Ryan Anderson and 6’8” UConn forward DeAndre Daniels.
Within the Ivy League, Harvard has fared better against its stiffest post competition. In two games against Dartmouth, 6’9” forward Gabas Maldunas was held below his season scoring average—though the sophomore did connect on seven of 13 attempts.
But Hummer is a different beast. The preseason favorite for Ivy Player of the Year, Hummer has done it all for Princeton this season, as his 15.7 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists are good for tops on the Tigers and second, fourth, and third in the conference, respectively.
As impressive as Hummer’s numbers have been, the Crimson needs only to remember its past matchups with the Tigers to know the problems Hummer presents. In five contests against Harvard over the past two seasons, Hummer has averaged 15.2 points.
“We haven’t had an answer for him through the years,” Amaker said. “He’s very rugged, very physical, but yet he’s fluid enough to be on the perimeter.”
“He’s a nightmare of a matchup, so we’re going to have our hands full again,” continued Amaker, who added that the Crimson may throw a handful of different defenders at Hummer.