History in the Way of Postseason Ambitions
The last time the Harvard men’s basketball team won a game in Jadwin Gymnasium, Tommy Amaker—who had finished college eight months earlier—was a graduate assistant for Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, and none of the players he currently coaches had been born.
So it has certainly been a while since February 3, 1989—the last time the Crimson left Princeton victorious.
On Friday, Harvard is faced with that daunting test once again, and the stakes have almost never been higher.
With four games remaining on its schedule, the Crimson (17-7, 9-1 Ivy) sits 1.5 games ahead of the Tigers (14-9, 7-2) in the Ivy League standings.
If Harvard can win on ESPNU, it would move within one victory of clinching at least a share of its third consecutive Ivy League title and two wins within clinching the championship outright.
Because the Crimson will be a significant favorite in its final three games—at Penn and home against Cornell and Columbia—a victory against Princeton would mark a giant step towards a second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance for the squad. But if the Tigers win, they too will control their own destiny for a title share, setting up the possibility of the second one-game playoff between the two teams in the last three years.
“I’m really excited, and I know our team’s excited,” sophomore wing Wesley Saunders said. “Whenever we play Princeton, it’s a great atmosphere. It’s always going to be a great game.”
The last time the two teams met, on Feb. 16 at Lavietes Pavilion, Harvard—which saw five players score in double-digits—knocked off the Tigers, 69-57. But earning a victory on the road will be an entirely different animal.
“The excitement, the energy I’m sure is going to be as high as we’ve seen all year, and it should be,” Amaker said. “We’ll be confident, but we know it’s going to be a tremendous challenge.”
If Harvard is going to conquer that challenge, it will need to find a way to contain Princeton forward Ian Hummer, who ranks second in the conference with 16.1 points and fifth with 6.3 rebounds per game.
He, along with Saunders, is one of the two contenders for Ivy League Player of the Year. And for the second straight meeting, Hummer will be defended by the sophomore, on whom he has two inches and often tried to post up in their last matchup.
“Hummer is as good of a player as we’ll face all season,” Amaker said. “We’ve got to make it hard for him, see if we can not give him easy baskets in the post.... I think that’s the key—you’re not bailing him out. You’ve got to really compete against him.”
“He does have a height advantage, but it’s a good challenge,” added Saunders, who averages a league-high 16.7 points per game. “I think it should be fun.”
Another point of emphasis will be three-point defense against Princeton’s bevy of shooters, led by 6’10” forward Will Barrett, who has hit a league-high 52.1 percent of his long balls. Sophomore guard Denton Koon, who has scored in double figures in 12 of his last 14 games, is also a dangerous perimeter threat.
“They have some really good shooters,” Saunders said. “We really need to focus on trying to limit their attempts at threes.”