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The Harvard men’s basketball team made the drive to New Jersey yesterday in advance of tonight’s Ivy battle with Princeton at Jadwin Gym. The drive took six hours on the interstate but four years down memory lane.
It was February of 1999 and Bill Carmody knew a recipe for disaster when he saw one. After losing a heated overtime contest at Lavietes Pavilion, the former Princeton coach’s postmortem focused on the veteran leadership of Harvard’s senior-laden squad.
“This is a senior team,” Carmody said of Harvard, “and I hate playing senior teams because they’re used to these kinds of games.”
Carmody was right—it was Senior Night at Lavietes. In their last-ever home games, point guard Tim Hill ’99 poured in a game-high 27 points, shooting guard Mike Beam ’99 fired two decisive three-pointers in the extra session and center Bill Ewing ’99 frustrated Princeton prodigy Chris Young down low. The Crimson win, an 87-79 heartstopper, was the climax to the most brilliant era of Harvard basketball so far, one that witnessed 58 wins in four years.
The victory was also the last gasp of a Harvard program about to jump headfirst into rebuilding mode. The next fall, Harvard welcomed an overstocked recruit class. Harvard hasn’t beaten Princeton since.
Four years later, that freshman class is all grown up and has turned Harvard (10-5, 2-0 Ivy) into an all-senior squad once again. Senior Elliott Prasse-Freeman, who inherited Hill’s position and his No. 15 jersey four years ago, more recently seized his school assist record. Captain Brady Merchant took over Beam’s No. 22 jersey and reprised his role as wing guard. Sam Winter, Brian Sigafoos and leading scorer Patrick Harvey round out the Crimson’s all-senior starting five.
In short, everything has come full circle—but with a twist. Tonight’s tilt with the Tigers comes on the road rather than at home. It comes near the start of the league season rather than at the end. And a win would bring endless possibility, not just the consolation prize it was for Hill & Co.
This year’s trip to the Killer P’s comes earlier than usual for Harvard, who may be rusty after a 20-day layoff. But the timing could prove to be a blessing in disguise. Save for a tune-up win over Division III Ursinus this week, Princeton (6-7) is also coming off an extended break for exams. Penn (8-5), meanwhile, stumbled through the first half of last year’s Ivy slate and has been inconsistent in the early portion of its schedule this year. Star forward Ugonna Onyekwe is coming off a demotion by Quaker coach Fran Dunphy. Onyekwe, whose underachieving has repeatedly drawn Dunphy’s ire, was left out of his team’s starting lineup for five straight games prior to Tuesday’s win over La Salle.
Between the Quaker chaos and with Yale still reeling after being swept by Brown, the title chase is wide open. Shutting the backdoor tonight at Princeton could now officially blow the barndoor open in the Ivy race.
Still, Harvard hasn’t won at either venue in a good while. Its most recent victories at the Palestra (1990-91) and Jadwin (1988-89) both predate Harvard coach Frank Sullivan. The Crimson has enjoyed some success against Penn in recent years, scoring upsets at Lavietes each of the last two seasons, but it has never matched that success in the Quakers’ home building. Wins have been even rarer against Princeton—except for that one magical night at Lavietes when Hill and Harvard gained glory.
The one holdover from that game in 1999 could be the difference-maker tonight. Harvey was a freshman reserve on the 1998-99 team, deploying his trademark running floater during a first-half Harvard spurt that helped lift the Crimson to victory. After taking a year off before his sophomore campaign, he’s been one of the league’s most prolific scorers. Despite being slowed by a foot injury and the massive attention paid to him by most opposing defenses, he’s looked more like his First Team All-Ivy self in recent games. He’s led Harvard’s point production in three of its last four contests and exploded for 27 in the Crimson’s most recent win at Dartmouth.
As for Princeton, one season after the Crimson’s overtime thriller, Carmody was gone, bolting Princeton for a head coaching position at Northwestern. When he left, Princeton’s hotshot freshman Spencer Gloger followed suit, transferring to UCLA.
In 2003, Carmody’s still a memory but Gloger’s back, having transferred back last year. The 6’7 forward leads the team with 17.3 ppg and his presence helped soften the blow of another crushing injury to forward Andre Logan.
Stopping Gloger will be a chore, but in its win over the Tigers on Jan. 3, Holy Cross showed that it may be all that’s needed to quiet Princeton, having held Gloger to only 10 points. If Harvard can repeat that feat, tonight’s drama could be the opening act of an epic tale—a tale that’s been four years in the making.
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