Men's Basketball's Hopes To Dance Hit Roadbump

Blame It on the Al-koe-hol

The Harvard men’s basketball team lost to Princeton, 70-62, on Feb. 11—the same day that pop-icon Whitney Houston passed away at the too-young age of 48. I, perhaps unwisely, tried to convince my girlfriend and her roommate that I was justified in being more crushed by the Crimson loss than the death of an icon. I made progressively more damning arguments: “She was before my time…I’m not that into R&B, I am into basketball…I never met her, but I have met the guys on the team.” I eventually settled on the following analogy: “This is equivalent to some objectively more successful artist—say, The Beatles—killing Whitney right when she was at her peak. Twice.”

I’ve blocked what happened next from my memory, but suffice it to say I was lucky that Valentine’s Day was just a few short days away and, with a nice bouquet of flowers and the traditional Hallmark festivities, all was forgotten.

But the pain still lingered.

Which is why Friday’s victory over the Tigers was so sweet. Princeton has been coach Tommy Amaker and co.’s nemesis these past couple years, and once again it put up a solid fight at Lavietes before Harvard exorcised some demons, winning 67-64, as the crowd chanted those sweet six words, “I believe that we will win.”

I walked back to the quad with my friends regaling one of the best played basketball games we’d seen in a while. I called my girlfriend and told her she was right about Whitney. There wasn’t going to be a playoff like last year. The boys wanted it too much. This was our year.

Then Zack Rosen happened.

What is there to say about Penn’s senior point guard who put up 14 points in the second half to bring the Quakers back from a nine-point deficit with eight minutes left to beat the Crimson, 55-54, in the dying seconds of the game? To borrow from my idol, Ron Burgundy, “I’m not even mad. That’s amazing.”  Though Mr. Burgundy was referring to his dog Baxter’s ability to poop in the refrigerator and eat a whole wheel of cheese, the late-game collapse left me similarly dumbfounded. There was nothing to do but “get in [my] p.j.’s and hit the hay.”

I’m not going to say Harvard deserved to win the game—it didn’t. Nor am I going to say that the charging call on junior Kyle Casey with 5.7 seconds left was wrong—it wasn’t. But I will say that there are about a hundred reasons why the Crimson should have won. If even an ounce of effort had been given to defend Penn’s Miles Cartwright at the end of the first half…if just one of co-captain Oliver McNally’s threes rattled in…if Harvard had its average number of turnovers, 12, instead of 20…. The list goes on. But if ifs and buts were candy and nuts we’d all have a merry Christmas.

Amaker and his team will just have to file away Saturday’s loss into a growing glossary of devastation. After all, a Crimson sweep of Columbia and Cornell this weekend will mean—at the very least—a share of the Ivy title and yet another end-of-season playoff with one of the killer P’s.

The fact that this column is being written is remarkable for a number of reasons. First, who would have thought Harvard’s basketball fans would not only be crushed but genuinely shocked that the Crimson was entering the final weekend of the season with two conference losses. Before last year, that had never happened.

But this year’s squad isn’t any typical Harvard team. Everyone returned from the best team in program history. It won the pre-season Battle for Atlantis tournament and competed on the road against defending national champion UConn. The Crimson even occupied a spot in the Top-25 for much of the campaign. This was supposed to be the year; on paper, one of the best Ivy League teams in conference history. There was even talk of making a Cornell-like run in the NCAA tournament—which Harvard hasn’t been to since 1946. But now, at the hands of an undersized point guard from New Jersey, there’s a chance the Crimson won’t even be dancing in March, let alone making a run to the Sweet Sixteen.

My parents always told me not to count my eggs until they’d hatched. But in my mind, and the minds of so many Harvard faithful, this egg was hatched, walking around about to make a delicious dinner.

This past weekend’s results are a testament to why they don’t play the games on paper. But Tommy, if you can somehow pull this off and get the Crimson into the tournament, then, to borrow from the late, great Whitney Houston, “I will always love you.”

—Staff writer Alexander Koenig can be reached at akoenig@college.harvard.edu.

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