On Saturday, Dec. 31, the men’s basketball team (10–4 overall, 1–0 Ivy League) hosted the Harvard Crimson (9–6 overall, 0–1 Ivy League), on the first day of Ivy League play. The Tigers prevailed 69–66 in a back-and-forth matchup that featured 11 lead changes.
Nail-biters like this one have become nearly an expectation when Harvard and Princeton face off on the basketball court. While the Tigers swept the season series last year, both games with Harvard came down to the wire, with the Tigers needing last-second heroics from now-senior forward and reigning Ivy League Player of the Year Tosan Evbuomwan to take down the Crimson in Cambridge in a 74-73 win.
The Crimson started off the first of this season’s matchups with five unanswered points, which would go on to be the largest lead of the half and Harvard’s largest lead of the game. Much of the first half was a back-and-forth affair, as the squads settled into the rhythm of the game.
Crimson senior forward Chris Ledlum led all scorers in the first half with 12 points, deftly evading defenders and taking advantage of his strength and size to finish plays. The Tigers don’t typically get outmatched in the paint with the likes of Evbuomwan and 6-foot-9-inch tall senior forward Keeshawn Kellman, but Ledlum gave the Tigers a true test, finishing the game with 22 points, 13 rebounds, and three blocks, leading all other players in all three categories.
“He’s a problem,” head coach Mitch Henderson ’98 told The Daily Princetonian in reference to Ledlum. “He’s so physical, a terrific scorer; he scored around the basket late in the game, he made huge threes … he really made his presence felt.”
The Tigers shot just 36.7 percent from the field as a team. Despite the low percentage and Ledlum’s offensive success, the Tigers did just enough to keep it close going into the break. A three-pointer from sophomore guard Blake Peters with 21 seconds left in the half sent the Tigers into halftime facing just a one-point deficit.
The second half began with much of the same back-and-forth scoring, but three straight buckets, including two three-pointers from first-year forward Caden Pierce, gave the Tigers an eight-point cushion with 9:01 remaining.
A three from senior guard Ryan Langborg extended the lead to 12, the largest of the game, with 5:33 remaining, but Ledlum responded with a three of his own on the subsequent possession, igniting a 7–0 Crimson run that cut the Tiger lead to just five points with 4:08 remaining.
An unlikely hero for the Tigers emerged in Peters, who scored the Tigers’ final five points and led the squad in scoring with 13 points in his 20 minutes off the bench.
“He was great,” Henderson said. “As good as he was making shots, he was equally as good on the defensive end.”
“It’s a role I’m very comfortable in,” Peters told the ‘Prince’ when asked about coming off of the bench. “I know what the coaching staff and my teammates expect of me, and they give me the confidence to go out and perform. Defenses are extremely focused on Tosan, Matt, and Ryan, so it’s up to myself and the other rotation players to play within ourselves and take some scoring pressure off those guys.”
Henderson thinks bench scoring from players like Peters will be crucial toward success in the Ivy League.
“If you’re going to be successful in the league you need balanced scoring,” he said. “We’ve been able to find contributions up and down the lineup.”
The Crimson had one last chance to tie the game as they heaved the ball up the floor to Ledlum, down three points with 0:05 remaining, but Pierce high-pointed the ball and came down with the game-clinching steal.
While the Tigers are happy to kick off the new conference season with a rivalry win, Henderson knows that the road to another regular season Ivy League title will be a long one.
“It’s clear that the league is very tough,” he said. “I don’t think anyone is going undefeated, but to get a home win when we’re going to be on the road a lot is crucial.”
The Tigers will be on the road for their next four contests, starting with a trip to New York for a Jan. 6 matchup with the Columbia Lions (6–10 overall, 1–0 Ivy League) who are fresh off of an upset victory over the Yale Bulldogs (10–4 overall, 0–1 Ivy League).
Diego Uribe is a contributor to the Sports and News sections at the ‘Prince.’ Please direct any corrections requests to correction[at]dailyprincetonian.com.