Of course, it would have been mathematically possible: Harvard finally bests Princeton and Penn, back-to-back in one weekend and makes a serious run for the Ivy crown.
After disappointing losses to Cornell, Brown and Yale, the highly acclaimed Crimson cagers needed a sweep against the powers from the South to build momentum before a torturous five-game road trip, which will include stops in the unfriendly homes of the Tigers and Quakers.
"Nah, the whole idea is ridiculous," said the skeptics. Princeton had beaten Harvard 21 straight times over the past 11 years.
Ridiculous or not, the Crimson broke that streak with a stirring 53-49 overtime victory on Saturday and set itself up for the upset weekend of the season. Beat Penn, grab second place, move on and seek revenge against slumping Cornell.
The dream shattered against the rim of the Harvard basket, as key shots by Donald Fleming. Bob Ferry and Calvin Dixon slammed against the orange-painted metal and failed to drop through the twine. Harvard, now 3-4 in the Ivies, collapsed and lost, 79-62. After a shaky start, Penn is in first place at 5-2. What else is new?
Playing before a rambunctious capacity crowd of 1650, the Cagers struggled back from an early 20-12 Penn lead and almost pulled even behind the hot shooting of captain Fleming, who pumped in 12 of his game-high 21 points before the first buzzer.
Down by four, 34-30, the Harvard five apparently assumed they would pick up where they left off, playing deliberately and bogging down Penn's blitzkrieg offense.
Penn assumed otherwise. The Quakers burst out of the locker room and repeated their early first-half explosion, widening their lead to 10 points, 41-31, with 18 minutes left in the game.
"They were just too quick," said Harvard coach Frank McLaughlin afterwards. "We did things okay for most of the game, but every time we made a run, they came right back and shot even better."
Indeed, the Quakers followed a 67-percent first-half field goal conversion rate with a 68-percent second half Willie Oliphant led Penn with 14 points, and four of his teammates hit in double figures as well.
Harvard, which simply couldn't protect the inside and still harass Penn's long-distance bombers--Oliphant, Paul Little and David Lardner--had stuck with the Quakers with some gutsy mid-range shooting of its own. But in the stretch, when the Penn lead dwindled to five, the smooth swishes turned to bricks.
With the crowd shrieking for a miracle, first Planning, then Ferry missed open 12-ft, jumpers. Dixon, starting his first game after a long injury layoff, hit a twisting Archibald-style lay-up at 3:47 to close the gap to three, 59-56, but he too misfired the next time down the court, and Penn piled up a deceiving 17-point win.
Against Princeton, a day earlier., McLaughlin had bellowed at his troops to step lively, fearing that the famed slow-motion Tiger offense would once again lull a determined Harvard squad into submission.
Though Princeton mounted leads in both halves, the Tigers didn't seem eager to finish off the job, and a Dixon anti-gravity special pushed the Crimson into a 44-44 tie at the end of regulation time.
The extra five-minute period provided a few surprises: Harvard remained cool and built a modest two-point lead going into the final minute and then hit four consecutive last-second free throws to ice the victory, two by Joe Carrabino and two by Dixon.
And that's when the real shocker came. Calvin Dixon, the proud, quiet point guard disabled for more than six weeks by a leg injury, displayed some emotion on the court. After he hit his first free throw with three seconds left and the score at 51-49, he wheeled around and gave Ferry a meaty high-five. After the second, he broke into a broad smile and launched himself toward a wildly cheering bench full of teammates.
"I was waiting for that moment for three years," he said later, peeling a weighty bandage from his left leg. "When I was in high school, everyone told me I was crazy to go to Harvard, that Harvard would never beat Penn or Princeton while I was there."
The Philadelphia native continued, grinning. "They asked me if Harvard even had a team. Well, you saw it today."
Eleven years after Harvard's last win against Princeton. Dixon helped end a legendary Ivy League tradition. But the next day, neither he nor his teammates were able to stop another one. Unless there are some unexpected basketball earthquakes in the next few weeks, it looks like another solid Harvard team will have to settle for less than first place.