The Ivy League championship is now the Harvard men’s basketball team’s to lose.
The Crimson took a 1.5-game lead over Princeton in the Ancient Eight standings last weekend, downing Penn and the Tigers in back-to-back games for just the second time in four years.
With six Ivy contests remaining, Harvard just needs to hang on to secure its third straight title and punch a ticket to the NCAA tournament.
But if the past is any indication, doing so won’t be easy.
The Crimson’s first two challenges will come this weekend, when Harvard (15-7, 7-1 Ivy) heads to Providence and New Haven to take on sixth-place Brown (9-13, 3-5) and fourth-place Yale (10-14, 3-5).
The Crimson defeated both teams at Lavietes Pavilion earlier this season—but not without a struggle.
Against the Bulldogs, Harvard played much of the second half without starting point guard Siyani Chambers, who was on the bench with four fouls, and saw its 13-point lead cut to three. The Crimson hung on for a 67-64 victory but was just one possession away from playing its second straight overtime game.
Harvard got its fair share of extra time the next night, though, as Brown made the Crimson play two extra sessions. Harvard led, 63-41, with 12:58 remaining, but the Bears closed out regulation on a 28-6 run to force overtime. An additional five minutes wasn’t enough to settle the contest, but co-captain Christian Webster posted five points in the second overtime to help deliver Harvard an 89-82 win and preserve the Crimson’s undefeated conference record.
“We know that they’re going to have a lot of confidence against us just the way those two games ended,” Webster said.
But Harvard may have a new weapon at its disposal for its rematches with Brown and Yale.
After being a relative non-factor through the Crimson’s first 20 games, sophomore center Kenyatta Smith exploded this past weekend, racking up 34 points, 16 rebounds, and 16 blocks in Harvard’s victories. When Smith last matched up against the Bears and Bulldogs, he recorded eight total points, seven rebounds, and two blocks.
The performance earned Smith his first-ever Ivy League Player of the Week award.
“Obviously what he did this past weekend was nothing short of amazing,” Amaker said. “We’re hopeful that we can continue to ride the wave or the momentum of his performance.”
If Smith were to turn in a similar performance this coming weekend at Yale and Brown—the Ivy League’s top offensive rebounding teams—the Crimson would likely emerge with two victories.
But the Crimson may not be able to count on a repeat performance. Smith missed Wednesday’s practice due to illness, but he is expected to be back in time for this weekend’s contests.