Men's Basketball: Davis's buzzer-beater sends Tigers to NCAA Tournament
NEW HAVEN, Conn. – With 2.8 seconds remaining, Princeton’s season was on the line. Down by one point, senior guard and co-captain Dan Mavraides held the ball behind his own baseline. Junior guard Doug Davis flashed to the opposite corner and received the ball. He dribbled right, pump-faked, leaned the other way for an open shot and let fly.
The ball hung in the air, then dropped. Nothing but net. The Tigers are dancing.
“I got a good screen from [sophomore forward] Will Barrett, and I had been warned that they were going to deny me the ball, but I was able to get open,” Davis said. “I took a couple dribbles, I was able to fade, it felt good and it went in.”
Fans from the student section reached Davis before the ball even touched the ground, swarming the court in celebration of the Tigers’ first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2004. The referees went to the monitor to review, but quickly determined that the shot counted, and Princeton could freely celebrate its 63-62 victory.
“I knew he was closing out, but 2.8 seconds is a long time, so I knew I had a little bit of time to dribble and get off in space,” said Davis, who added that he knew he had released the shot in time. “I fell on the ground [after the shot], which was the worst decision I’ve ever made – [the fans] all jumped me.”
The playoff victory ends a seven-year drought for Princeton and brings the senior class full circle. In its freshman season, the Class of 2011 was part of a 6-23 campaign, the worst record in Princeton history.
“It was kind of like my life flashing before my eyes, except it was my four years here – the worst team in Princeton history to top of the Ivy League,” Mavraides said of his feelings during the game-winning shot. “I might have blanked out, because the next thing I knew, I was on the ground screaming.”
The final minute produced wild, back-and-forth action that showed the best that Ivy League basketball has to offer. Harvard forward Kyle Casey gave his team a one-point lead with a tough layup over Barrett after an athletic drive, but sophomore forward Ian Hummer answered with a bank shot that rolled 720 degrees around the rim and fell through.
Princeton needed one stop to take control, but with ten seconds left, point guard Brandyn Curry scored from the lane off a feed from Christian Webster, putting Harvard up 62-61. Head coach Sydney Johnson ’97 elected not to stop play, and Davis took the ball up the court, where he was met by two Harvard players in the lane. His attempt was swatted away by Casey but went out of bounds off a black jersey.
Johnson then called his final timeout, setting up Princeton’s game-winning play.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” senior forward and co-captain Kareem Maddox said of the final shot and the aftermath. “But I’m not surprised that Doug hit it.”
Such late-game drama seemed unlikely in the game’s middle stages. Harvard took command in the final minutes of the first half and led by seven at the break, extending its advantage to as many as 10 points early in the second frame.
“We’re a very composed team when we’re down and in tight situations, and we proved it tonight,” Mavraides said. “We came into the second half down seven, but there were 20 minutes left, and that’s a lifetime. We just wanted to chip away. We’ve been in that situation a lot, been in four overtime games, and we just stayed composed.”
The first half was played at a snail’s pace – only 27 possessions for each side – but the action quickly picked up in the second. Barrett responded with a high-flying layup in transition, and a bank shot and one from Maddox cut the deficit to five points.
Moments later, an athletic tip-in by Hummer brought Princeton within one possession. Hummer’s basket was one of 14 offensive rebounds for the Tigers, who grabbed nearly half of their missed shots. Harvard, in contrast, tallied only five offensive boards.
“We’ve been stressing [offensive rebounding] all year, and a good part of last year as well,” Johnson said. “We don’t look like Princeton teams from past, and there’s nothing wrong with that. We run a bit different offense, do some different things, and offensive rebounds are part of it.”
Harvard guard Oliver McNally stopped the Princeton run with a three-pointer, coming off one of many pick-and-roll plays for Curry. But a few minutes later, Maddox found sophomore center Brendan Connolly cutting for a reverse layup, then grabbed his own miss and drew a foul in transition. The infraction was Wright’s fourth – all in the second frame – sending the Ivy League MVP to the bench for a short spell.
Davis then took over for the Tigers, who had lacked outside shooting in the game’s early stages. He hit a long jumper from the baseline and then launched a pull-up three that found nothing but net, giving Princeton its first second-half lead at 51-50.
Davis finished with a team-high 15 points, but had made only three of 13 field goal attempts before his game-winning jumper.
“I had no fear,” Davis said. “Shooters shoot. I’ve practiced shooting those shots…some fall, some don’t, but that’s not going to rattle my confidence.”
Hummer drew a fourth foul on Casey underneath, putting both of Harvard’s all-Ivy big men in foul trouble, and hit both free throws. A Mavraides floater over Wright and off the glass found net moments later, giving the Tigers a three-point lead. But Curry answered with a huge triple from the left side, tying the game at 55.
Wright gave the Crimson a brief lead with a putback in transition until Maddox answered with a wild scoop shot from the lane, tying the game at 57-57. Maddox, the Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year, finished with a double-double as well as four blocks and four assists.
Curry earned two free throws and made one, and then Davis drew a foul and hit both, giving Princeton a one-point lead. Harvard, which entered the game ranked second in the nation in free throw percentage and made a remarkable 27 of 30 free throws in last week’s victory, shot just 10-for-16 from the charity stripe on Saturday while the Tigers went 14 of 15.
Each team then came up empty-handed in its next possession, setting the stage for the thrilling final minute.
“I’m so thankful to have opportunity to get an NCAA berth, because we’ve worked so hard for the last four years,” Johnson said. “I hope we can celebrate that it’s these guys’ first championship. This is the first time these guys are in tournament.”
This year will mark the 24th NCAA Tournament appearance in program history.
The first Ivy League playoff since 2002 was met with considerable fanfare, as a well-over-capacity crowd filled Yale’s gymnasium for the second Harvard-Princeton meeting in as many weeks. The Crimson (23-6 overall, 12-2 Ivy League) took the most recent meeting, a 79-67 home victory, avenging a 65-61 win by the Tigers (25-6, 12-2) at Jadwin Gymnasium from the month before.
The Tigers struggled with the ball in the game’s early stages, and a three-pointer from McNally gave the Crimson an 11-6 lead. But Maddox sparked the offense shortly after checking in off the bench, cutting into the deficit with a wild layup and one. His fellow captain, Mavraides, then forced a steal and a breakaway layup to tie the game at 13; moments later, Maddox dished to Mavraides for a wide-open three. The ball found nothing but net, capping a 10-2 run that gave Princeton a three-point lead.
Harvard reeled off seven consecutive points of its own moments later to regain the advantage. Curry, who had 10 assists in last Saturday’s game and finished with six in this one, drove to the corner in transition and found Casey rolling through the lane. The forward threw down an emphatic alley-oop dunk, taking a 25-20 lead.
Princeton continued to struggle offensively and trailed 32-25 at halftime, its largest deficit of the game to that point. Mavraides’s three-pointer was the only triple the Tigers hit in the first half; they grabbed nine offensive rebounds in the period but made only 33 percent of their shots, committing seven turnovers. Harvard, meanwhile, shot 52 percent and committed only three miscues.
Both teams shot an even 50 percent in the second half, but the Tigers turned the ball over only twice.
The Tigers will learn their postseason fate at 6 p.m. Sunday, when pairings are released for the NCAA Tournament. Most recent projections had the Ivy League champion drawing a No. 13-seed.
(Update: Princeton will open the tournament against Kentucky on Thursday.)