One was the essence of euphoric jubilation. The other the definition of heartbreaking anguish.
Two games against the Princeton Tigers defined a record-breaking 2010-2011 season for the Harvard men’s basketball team.
On Saturday evening, March 4, 2011, Lavietes Pavilion was the site of what was the deemed the biggest game in Crimson basketball history. Numerous celebrities—Harvard President Drew Faust, ESPN’s Bill Simmons, Rockets GM Daryl Morey, and former Crimson star Jeremy Lin ’10 among them—were part of a sold-out crowd hungry to witness Harvard clinch at least a share of the first-ever Ivy League title in the conference’s nearly 60-year history.
And the home team did not disappoint.
Sophomore forward Kyle Casey led the way with a season-high 24 points, including a one-handed baseline dunk that sent the stadium into a frenzy early in the second half.
“It gave us incredible momentum,” sophomore guard Brandyn Curry said after the game. “I saw him set up for a three, and I thought, ‘This is going to be ugly.’ But then he went in for a ‘SportsCenter’ dunk. I think that changed the game.”
After Princeton cut the Harvard lead to five with five minutes to go, Curry made an acrobatic basket and knocked in the ensuing free throw to complete a three-point play, and junior co-captain Keith Wright added a layup on the next Crimson possession to push the lead to 10 with 4:22 remaining.
Harvard never looked back, and hit its free-throws down the stretch to seal the 79-67 victory. After a Tiger miss on the game’s final possession, junior co-captain Oliver McNally grabbed the rebound and heaved the ball into the air as the Crimson student section stormed the court in celebration.
For the first time in the program’s history, Harvard was a champion.
“This was something that has never been done,” Casey said after the game. “A lot of people have tried, come close, and put in a lot of work and determination to try to do what we’ve done this season so far. It was beyond just our team and our players and our coaching staff; it was for everyone that’s been through this program.”
Princeton took care of business against Penn to clinch their share of the title the following Tuesday, setting up a one-game playoff between the league co-champions on March 12 for the right to go to the NCAA Tournament.
The game—played at a neutral site, Yale’s John J. Lee Amphitheater—was a back-and-forth affair early on, but Harvard soon grabbed the lead. After the Crimson raced out to a nine-point second half advantage, it looked destined to reach the Big Dance for the first time since 1946.
But the Tigers would not go away, and fought back to pull ahead. After a Casey layup put Harvard back up with 1:01 left, Princeton’s Ian Hummer answered on the other end, giving the Tigers a 61-60 lead with 38 seconds remaining.
On the next Crimson possession, Curry attacked the basket and attempted a short floater that bounced around the rim before falling, putting Harvard up, 62-61, with 11 seconds to go.
Princeton junior guard Doug Davis took the inbound and went streaking down the court, attempting a running floater that was blocked out-of-bounds by Casey.