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You certainly can’t say Princeton men’s basketball team didn’t have its fair share of excitement this weekend.

The Tigers (9-10 overall, 2-1 Ivy League) completed their first full weekend of league play, falling to Harvard on Friday and taking down Dartmouth on Saturday. After these two tightly contested games, Princeton now finds itself ranked third in the league, only half a game away from overtaking Harvard for the second spot.

The loss to Harvard (12-5, 2-1) was a thrilling affair. Princeton struggled on the defensive side early on, getting torched from behind the arc. Surprisingly, the main culprit was not Harvard’s star forward Wesley Saunders but rather the reserve Corbin Miller. The backup guard came off the bench with huge impact, scoring 5 of Harvard’s 6 three-pointers (with 17 points overall) by halftime. While the Tigers were certainly not slouches on the offensive side, their defensive woes left them with a 10-point deficit going into halftime.

It was the second half, however, when Princeton began to show signs of life, with freshman guard Amir Bell and sophomore wing Stephen Cook leading the charge. Bell came out aggressive and had some strong takes to the basket, and Cook provided a great combination of playmaking and creating his own shot. Cook was the also the catalyst for the most electrifying sequence of the game, as he ferociously blocked Harvard’s Agunwa Okolie on one end and got the tough and-one on the other end. With this play, the score stood at 47-49, and Princeton was breathing right down Harvard’s neck. With the crowd’s enthusiasm at full tilt, it seemed only a matter of time that the Tigers would overtake the Crimson.

Alas, that two-point deficit would be the closest Princeton would get to Harvard for the rest of the game. Princeton’s defensive woes cropped up yet again in the second half. In the first half, they were getting torched from behind the arc; in the second half, the problems came from Harvard’s attack down low. Another one of Harvard’s reserves, Jonah Travis, proved key in the second half; he got multiple and-ones on Princeton that helped keep the surging Tigers at bay. Ultimately, despite very strong performances from Cook, Bell and senior guard Ben Hazel who finished with 21, 17 and 15 points, respectively, the Tigers couldn’t manage to sustain their initially threatening comeback.

However, a loss like that can’t be too discouraging. Harvard’s team is regarded by many as the most talented in the Ivy League. The Tigers looked ready to go as they pounced all over the Big Green the following night. Dartmouth (8-10, 1-3) didn’t make the top of anybody’s list coming into the season, but they did manage to get a surprising win at home last week over Harvard.

Unlike in the Harvard game, Princeton was in the driver’s seat for the entire game against Dartmouth. Forward Pete Miller was the go-to guy early on, hitting Dartmouth with moves ranging from sweeping hooks to reverse layups. After a less than stellar performance the previous night, against Dartmouth he finished with 13 points on an efficient 6-7 shooting. Sophomore wing Spencer Weisz was also critical in this game, as he filled up the box score with his 16 points, 6 boards, 3 assists and 3 steals. Moreover, Stephen Cook and Ben Hazel put in solid performances yet again, scoring 10 and 14 points respectively in this contest.

Dartmouth’s offense was rather interesting to watch yesterday. It seemed as if none of their players were comfortable being the go-to guy at any point in the game. Even their leading scorer for the game, center Gabas Maldunas, seemed a little uncomfortable every time he touched the ball. It looked like Dartmouth suffered heavily as their leading scorer for the season, Alex Mitola, failed to produce. The Big Green’s junior guard managed only 5 points on 1-8 shooting. Very tellingly, he scored 18 points in the team’s win against Harvard —it seems that Dartmouth really lives and dies by this player’s offensive performance.

Princeton has made a very strong start in Ivy League play. Though there are still many games to go, it looks like next week’s opponents Cornell and Columbia are more than manageable, and the Tigers could be climbing their way up the Ivy League standings.

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