Apparently, Harvard guard Bryce Aiken is close with Boston Celtics star Kyrie Irving — the two attended the same high school and have worked out together.
That’s fitting, since Aiken put on a performance reminiscent of Irving in the second half of Harvard’s 78–69 win over Princeton at Jadwin Gymnasium. With a combination of slick handles, acrobatic finishes at the rim, and stepback threes, Aiken dismantled the Princeton defense, scoring 20 of the Crimson’s final 30 points.
Perhaps more importantly, Aiken gave Harvard an offensive identity, a player to secure a basket when his team absolutely needed it. Most notably, with Harvard trailing 56–50 with 7:36 left, Aiken completed a four-point play, drilling a three and drawing a foul in the process.
Then, he hit another three. And another. Suddenly, a six-point lead had turned into a seven-point deficit, and Princeton had no response.
It’s that identity provided by a go-to offensive weapon that’s missing for Princeton, which has now lost three straight Ivy League games.
That’s not to say Princeton lacks talent. Between senior guard Devin Cannady, senior guard Myles Stephens, first-year guard Jaelin Llewellyn, and junior center Richmond Aririguzoh, Princeton can match up player for player with any team in the league.
It’s just that when Princeton desperately needs a basket, there’s no clear sense of where the ball should go.
The Tigers’ best bet to turn things around is likely Cannady. Fifth on Princeton’s all-time scoring list, the senior has made plenty of big baskets in his career. He found success getting to the basket against Harvard and had a few nifty passes to open shooters.
However, Cannady’s signature skill is his three-point shooting, and in that aspect, he hasn’t been himself lately. He’s shooting 6–33 from three in Ivy play this season, and 4–19 since returning from his three-game suspension.
The Tigers would also benefit from Llewellyn’s improvement. The first-year point guard has the tools to be a star player but has struggled mightily in Ivy play. He’s shot poorly from three and has been bothered getting to the rim and finishing against older, stronger defenders. He’ll continue to develop, but if Princeton wants to finish in the top four of the conference, they need him now.
Stephens is a perfectly capable offensive player, but Princeton relies on him too heavily defensively to also expect him to be its primary offensive playmaker. Friday night, he had the unenviable task of chasing around Aiken. For the most part, he did his job admirably — much of Aiken’s damage was done late in the game against defenders other than Stephens.
For most of the season, including last night, Princeton’s most effective offensive threat has been Aririguzoh. The breakout star scored 15 points on 6–8 shooting and got the better of Harvard big man Chris Lewis, who fouled out with 18 minutes played and 9 points. Princeton feeds the ball to Aririguzoh down low frequently. They should probably do it even more. But in the age of three-point mania, and fast-paced play, it feels counterintuitive to build an offense around an old-school post player.
Whatever the answer is to its offensive woes, Princeton needs to find it soon. Ideally, Saturday night against Dartmouth. Unlike last season, Princeton can’t let three consecutive losses turn into seven and still hope to contend for a top four spot. With players like Bryce Aiken around, the league is simply too strong.