On a campus with the most varsity sports in the country, it is easy to overlook the achievements of certain teams. For example, let’s take a random team—call it Harvard team X—and let’s look at what it’s done in the past couple seasons.
Team X won an Ivy League title last year. A solid start in and out of the conference buoyed expectations for a team that people didn’t expect to be better than last year’s squad.
Cinderella is leaving Salt Lake City battered, bruised, and—in the case of freshman point guard Siyani Chambers—without one of her teeth. After a shocking 68-62 victory over New Mexico on Thursday, the story was very different for the Crimson Saturday night against the Arizona Wildcats in a 74-51 loss.
Playing junior tennis in Texas, I vividly remember a stretch my sophomore year of high school where in nine of 10 tournaments—spanning almost three-quarters of a year—I lost in the second round every time. Although very different sports across the board, watching the Crimson Saturday I saw a lot of same the problems.
For Harvard coach Tommy Amaker, drawing the University of New Mexico in the NCAA tournament is a flashback his senior year of college. The national Defensive Player of the Year, Amaker was the lone starter returning from a Duke squad that made the tournament final in 1986. Back before Duke was Duke, with Blue Devil coach Mike Krzyzewski not yet the household name he would become, Amaker played a starring role for the 1987 Duke squad.
In the tournament, Duke easily advanced in its first two games, dispatching Texas A&M, 58-51, and Xavier, 65-60, to reach the Sweet Sixteen. There, awaiting Amaker and the Blue Devils, was current New Mexico coach and Indiana Hoosier guard Steve Alford. Alford had averaged 22 points a game for Bob Knight’s Hoosiers and would go on to lead the team to a national championship that year, topping Amaker’s squad, 88-82, in their clash.
This team was supposed to be defined by the scandal.
This team’s only senior averaged sixteen minutes a game last year.
With 1.3 seconds left and Princeton up five on Friday, sophomore forward Jonah Travis tossed a lazy pass towards freshman point guard Siyani Chambers. Sprinting from the left block, Princeton forward Ian Hummer knocked the ball out of the air and out of bounds as time expired, putting a definitive stamp on his incredible night. Hummer’s 23 points and 14 boards were the driving force behind the Princeton men’s basketball team’s 58-53 triumph over Harvard. The painfully trite metaphor was very appropriate: opportunities slipping out of the team’s fingertips at the last moment.
The Crimson (17-9, 9-3 Ivy) started the weekend on top of the Ivy League and came out playing loose. Warming up for Friday’s game, the team was laughing and joking around. Assistant coach Yanni Hufnagel had guaranteed a win on Twitter; grinning sophomore forward Jonah Travis threw down a pair of windmill dunks during pregame warmups. Nearly 28 hours later, Christian Webster’s desperate final trey landed two feet short of the basket as the horn sounded at the Palestra, and the mood was anything but celebratory. Harvard had dropped consecutive road games at the Killer P’s, out-executed by both Penn and Princeton, which exposed its major weaknesses throughout miserable first halves.