It was more of the same for the Princeton men’s basketball team this weekend, as they split another pair of games and continue to tread water in the Ivy League standings. Playing two games on the road, the Tigers managed to defeat Dartmouth, but fell to the Crimson, despite holding a first-half lead.
Coming into this weekend with only seven games left to play in the regular season, the Tigers (12-13 overall, 5-4 Ivy League), ranked third in the conference, knew that every win (and loss) would count more than ever. The opponents they would face stand on opposite ends of the spectrum, with Dartmouth at seventh and Harvard at the top of league. Moreover, after dropping a game to Yale last week, a win over Harvard would help the Tigers inch closer to the top of the conference.
The weekend certainly started out on the right note, as the Tigers completed a season sweep against Dartmouth. The Big Green (10-14, 3-7) came out of the gate strong, leading by as much as nine points in the first half, and headed into the locker room with a five point lead.
Though a Dartmouth layup would stretch that lead to seven in the opening minutes of the second half, the Tigers would continue to keep the game close, staying just a few points away from Dartmouth for most of the half. Around the nine-minute mark was when they finally pounced, grabbing the lead after a three-pointer by senior guard Clay Wilson, and refusing to relinquish that lead for the rest of the game.
Wilson had a great performance on the game, coming off the bench to score 11 points in 19 minutes of play. His offensive production was part of a very balanced Princeton attack. Sophomore wings Stephen Cook and Spencer Weisz would contribute 10 points each on the game. Cook nearly managed a double-double, as he pulled down nine boards in addition to his scoring.
However, the star on the game was freshman guard Amir Bell, who produced a stat sheet-stuffing performance on the day. Bell put in 12 points, six rebounds and four assists, aiding his team in nearly every way possible. While Dartmouth’s star player Miles Wright put up a solid 16 points on the day, Princeton would still go on to win to the tune of 63-56.
The real challenge would lie in Cambridge. Harvard (19-5, 9-1) has not lost since Jan. 24, and have made Lavietes Pavilion the hardest place to play in the Ivy League. The team is firing on all cylinders at both ends of the court — they have not only the productive combo of Wesley Saunders and Siyani Chambers on offense, but also a high-performing and intimidating defense known to force tough shots and turnovers.
Despite all this, Princeton appeared able to rise to the challenge. The Tigers led by as much as 12 in the first half, and at halftime held an eight-point lead.
The Crimson was undaunted. After going down by nine in the early minutes of the second half, they would storm back on a 13-4 run to tie the game up with 12 minutes to go.After a series of ties and miniscule Princeton leads, the Crimson would finally break away with about three minutes to go, as a 7-0 run by the home team would seal the Tigers’ fate.
If we are searching for any one culprit for the Tigers’ loss, we can start with the turnovers. Princeton turned the ball over 19 times, compared to just eight times by Harvard. A large number of Princeton’s turnovers were converted into easy baskets or free throw opportunities for Harvard.
Credit, of course, must be given to the Harvard squad for pulling out this victory. In particular, the aforementioned combo of Chambers and Saunders should receive much of the praise. After a poor showing against Princeton last time, Saunders came out hungry, racking up 23 points and nine rebounds. Chambers would contribute 12 points and six rebounds to the game. Moreover, both players wreaked havoc on defense, as each got four steals en route to a victory determined by defensive intensity.
The Tigers now have merely five games to play; what’s worse, their travels are not yet over. Still on the road, they must take on Yale and Columbia next week before returning to Jadwin Gymnasium in the first week of March.