Six minutes into Friday’s game, it seemed as if the streak would come to an end. Princeton’s top scorer, sophomore forward Ian Hummer, went to the bench with his second foul and remained there for the rest of the half. Meanwhile, guard Christian Webster calmly sank three free throws, giving the visitors a 15-4 edge. With Harvard — generally a stronger second-half team — penetrating at will and the Tigers finding no answers, the Crimson threatened to put the game away.
But in front of their largest crowd of the season, the hosts crawled back and cut the deficit to just one point at halftime, then opened the second period with a 14-2 run to take control. Princeton (16-4 overall, 4-0 Ivy League) held off a late rally to down Harvard (16-4, 5-1) in a battle of conference unbeatens, 65-61. A day later, the Tigers pulled away with a 68-53 victory over Dartmouth (5-15, 1-5), cementing their position alone at the top of the Ivy League.
Three-pointers from junior guard Doug Davis and sophomore forward Mack Darrow narrowed the Crimson lead to four points midway through the first period. The lead remained there, through a scoreless stretch of three and a half minutes, and Harvard was up six with less than 60 seconds to play. But senior forward Kareem Maddox hit a layup, and Brandyn Curry pulled the trigger too early on an off-balance three-pointer, missing with five seconds remaining. Davis pushed the ball into the frontcourt, attempting a running three-pointer just before the buzzer and drawing a foul on Laurent Rivard. The junior hit all of his free throws, cutting the halftime margin to 30-29.
Davis again catalyzed Princeton’s offense out of the break, sinking a three-pointer after a stop to give the hosts their first lead. Four baskets in the paint, followed by a Darrow three-pointer, electrified the crowd and extended the lead to 43-32.
Johnson said he was proud of his team’s energy in the second half. “It was pretty special to see how passionate we were. Though we played really well defensively in the first half, there were some things we needed to tighten up at halftime, and the guys came out and really dug in.”
Harvard’s top post threats, Kyle Casey and Keith Wright, each picked up their fourth foul with more than 10 minutes remaining. Neither sat for long, but both were less effective on the defensive end for fear of fouling out.
Up eight with 90 seconds remaining, the Tigers seemed to have the game in hand, but Rivard had other ideas. The star freshman walked the ball up the court, stopped and calmly sank a 25-footer to close the gap to 60-55. A minute later, he sank an off-balance and contested three-pointer from even further out on a broken play, closing the lead to two points. But Mavraides and Hummer each made a pair of foul shots, closing out the game.
Thanks to terrific free throw shooting (18-21), key three-pointers and 15 forced turnovers, Princeton won despite shooting its lowest percentage from the floor this season, 40 percent.
Although preseason polls predicted Harvard would be the Tigers’ top challenger for the league title, and although the Crimson received a vote in the most recent Associated Press Top 25 poll, Johnson downplayed the significance of the victory.
“It’s not really that big, because it’s only game three for us ... I’m going to guess we have a few more games like this. It was nice to hold home court, but we have more challenges coming up.”
The thousands of spectators in attendance, however, might disagree. The crowd of 4,148 was Princeton’s largest since a similar meeting of undefeated Ivy teams against then-No. 24 Cornell last February.
“When you make a shot and hear the gym go crazy, it means the world to us,” Mavraides said. “It’s definitely tough to play in a tough environment.”
In front of a much smaller audience on Saturday, the Tigers, perhaps suffering a letdown from the previous night’s thriller, came out flat in the first half. The Big Green scored the game’s first eight points and took a 12-3 lead, though Princeton quickly answered with a run of its own. Mavraides hit a triple at the 12-minute mark, giving the Tigers their first lead at 15-14.
Late in the half, Darrow fought for a defensive rebound on the floor and then trailed the play, finding space for a wide-open three-pointer and hitting nothing but net to cap the rally. His fourth triple of the weekend in as many attempts capped an 8-0 Princeton run, seemingly opening up the game for the more talented hosts.
But Dartmouth responded, shutting out the Tigers for the final five minutes of the period and scoring eight unanswered points to draw even at 34-34. The Big Green, which entered the game shooting 38 percent from the floor, made 61 percent of its first-half attempts.
For the second consecutive evening, Princeton rallied out of intermission to take control of a tight contest. Mavraides opened the half with a triple, sparking an 11-2 run for the hosts. Hummer, who was the top scorer in both games and finished the weekend with 36 points, connected twice from the post in that stretch.
Princeton struggled to hold late leads in each of its previous two games but allowed no comeback on Saturday. The Tigers blanked the visitors for 12 consecutive possessions spanning eight minutes, scoring 14 points of their own to put the game away.
Davis had five steals in the first half against Dartmouth and nine over the weekend, helping Princeton win the turnover battle each night.
“It’s made him so much more valuable to us,” Johnson said of his shortest player’s nose for the ball. “He’s crafty, he’s quick, he has an ability to bother other people, to dig down off the ball, and he’s got good hands.”
Princeton next hosts traditional rival Penn (9-9, 3-1) in a mid-week contest on Tuesday. The Quakers opened league play with three wins before falling to Harvard in double overtime, 83-82, leaving the Tigers as the lone undefeated team in Ivy play.
-Davis is now six points shy of 1,000 for his career. He will likely pass that milestone on Tuesday against Penn, becoming the first junior to do so in 21 years.
-Maddox’s 15 rebounds Saturday tied the most for a Tiger since 1999 (Zach Finley ’10 had 15 against Penn on Feb. 17, 2009).
-Maddox had five blocks against Harvard, best for a Princeton player in nearly two years (Junior Patrick Saunders had six, also on Feb. 17, 2009, against Penn).
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2011/02/07/27477/