Just when it looked as if Harvard would run away with the Ivy League race, defending champion Princeton took care of business at home to knock the Crimson back within striking distance.
Had Harvard swept the Penn-Princeton road trip, it would have entered the final three weeks of the season with a two-game lead. And considering the Crimson led the Tigers 27-22 at halftime on Feb. 11, that looked like a strong possibility.
Not so fast. An impressive second half led the Tigers to a 70-62 victory and gave the rest of the league new life. Entering the weekend of Feb. 17-18, Harvard was up by just one game in the loss column over both Yale and Pennsylvania, with Cornell and Princeton two games behind.
But for anyone to knock coach Tommy Amaker’s squad from the top of the standings, it’ll have to do the damage on the road.
The Crimson’s next four games are at home, including contests against the two teams right behind it in the standings. Harvard gets Yale on Feb. 18 and Pennsylvania on Feb. 25, and it already owns wins in New Haven and Philadelphia. If the Crimson takes care of business, it could have things wrapped up heading into its road trip to Cornell and Columbia during the final week of the season.
However, the race was very, very close to being all but over even with the Harvard loss. Both Penn and Yale need to rebound quickly from weekends in which they came close to getting swept and had their confidence severely shaken.
Penn fell to Harvard at home on Feb. 10, then needed a 3-pointer in the final seconds to survive a scare from Dartmouth. The Quakers are at home again Feb. 17-18, but they face a Columbia squad that’s got a top big man in Mark Cisco and some dangerous shooters on the outside, and a dangerous Cornell team that would be in contention if it can pull off the Princeton-Penn road sweep.
Meanwhile, Yale should know its fate by the end of the weekend. It lost to Cornell and needed a 21-point second-half comeback to stun Columbia during the weekend of Feb. 10-11. Assuming the Bulldogs don’t slip up at Dartmouth, they would control their own destiny if they can win at Harvard on Feb. 18, since if they win out, the worst they can do is a playoff. A loss, however, all but eliminates the Bulldogs.
And despite its win over the Crimson last weekend, Princeton still needs a lot of help. It was 4-3 in the Ivy League through Feb. 12, and it still has to travel to Harvard and play Yale and Pennsylvania at home. The Tigers need to keep winning and have another team figure out how to solve Harvard to have a chance at returning to the NCAA Tournament.
• Cornell’s Chris Wroblewski was named Ivy League Player of the Week for his strong games in a sweep of Yale and Brown. He had 18 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds against the Bulldogs, just missing the first triple-double in program history, and had 15 points, eight assists and five rebounds the next night against Brown.
• Jvonte Brooks was the Ivy League’s Rookie of the Week for the third time this season. The Dartmouth forward had double-doubles against both Princeton and Penn, going for 11 points and 13 rebounds against the Tigers and following that up with 18 points and 10 rebounds in the loss to the Quakers.
• It’s safe to say that perimeter defense will be a focus for Brown at practice this week. Columbia went 10-for-19 from beyond the arc against the Bears on Feb. 10, while Cornell went 12-for-23 the next day. Jesse Agel’s squad was without standout point guard Sean McGonagill, but it’s tough to say his absence was the sole reason for that defensive weakness.
• Princeton’s fans could be excused from charging the court after the Tigers’ Feb. 11 victory over Harvard. It was Princeton’s first win over a ranked team since 1997, when the Tigers defeated a Wake Forest team ranked No. 23 in the country, and the first time since 1977 that the Tigers had beaten a ranked team at home.
• Barring an unexpected benching, Penn’s Tyler Bernardini will break a tie with his coach and move into the top five list in career starts for the Quakers. He enters the weekend of Feb. 17-18 with 100 starts, tied for seventh with Jerome Allen. He could move into fifth by next week, as he’s also just one behind Michael Jordan and Geoff Owens on the list.
• Chris Crockett had a career night for Columbia against Brown on Feb. 10, scoring 18 points on six 3-pointers. To put that in perspective, he had scored a total of 21 points his first three years on campus.
• Harvard continued its stretch of misery when travelling to Princeton. The 70-62 loss to the Tigers on Feb. 11 was the 23rd straight for the Crimson at Jadwin Gym, where Harvard hasn’t win since earning a 63-57 victory in 1989.
• Cornell’s Newman Arena continues to be a house of horrors for Yale. Following an 85-84 loss Feb. 10, the Bulldogs have gone down to defeat eight consecutive times in Ithaca. Two of those losses have occurred in overtime, and another was a one-point defeat in regulation.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Matchup To Watch: Yale at Harvard, Feb. 18—It’s hard to see a scenario in which Yale can win the Ivy League title without a victory here, given that the Crimson won earlier this season in New Haven. But if the Bulldogs can return the favor, the conference race would get a whole lot more interesting in a hurry.
Key Games To Watch:
Cornell at Pennsylvania
The Big Red are on the fringes of the race now but could assert themselves as contenders with a win on the road.
Brown at Harvard
If Sean McGonagill is healthy, the Bears could be tough against a Crimson team that may be looking ahead to the next day’s game against Yale.
Columbia at Princeton
Mark Cisco is a tough matchup for the Tigers, and the Lions have upset capabilities if they shoot well from the perimeter.
Brown at Dartmouth
Can the Big Green finally get that elusive first Ivy League win against the undermanned Bears?
Cornell at Princeton
Tough to see how either team recovers from a loss here to re-enter the Ivy League race.
Around The League
• Sean McGonagill missed both the Cornell and Columbia games after suffering a hard fall the previous week against Penn. He’d started every game in his two years on campus, and he led the team in scoring at 14 points per game. There’s no word on whether he’ll be ready to return during the weekend of Feb. 17-18.
• Tellef Lundevall was counted on to increase his production in McGonagill’s absence, and he didn’t disappoint against Columbia. The Bears football star scored a career-high 12 points against the Lions while also leading the team with 11 rebounds.
• Matt Sullivan stepped up his production in the absence of McGonagill. He scored 17 against Columbia and 21 more against Cornell, the most for the junior guard since he had 26 against Albany on Nov. 14.
• Injuries are starting to take their toll on Jesse Agel’s squad. With McGonagill the latest Bear on the sidelines, only nine Brown players were able to dress during the weekend of Feb. 10-11.
• Coach Kyle Smith is going to have his work cut out for him to get his team back from the toughest loss in his two years at the helm at Columbia. The Lions led Yale by 20 points with less than 10 minutes to play at home on Feb. 11, only to collapse and fall to the Bulldogs 59-58.
• Columbia continues to have problems with pressing teams, and it fell apart when Yale ratcheted up the defensive pressure down the stretch. The Lions turned the ball over 21 times against the Bulldogs, five times in the final six minutes when Yale was making its run.
• Columbia’s 26-point victory over Brown on Feb. 10 was a rare blowout for the Lions. The team hadn’t won by that much since knocking off Dartmouth 78-42 back in 2004.
• Blaise Staab had the chance to be a hero against Columbia, but the 67 percent free-throw shooter missed two attempts from the line with three seconds to play against Yale. The Lions wound up losing the game 59-58.
• Johnathan Gray had a career night in the Big Red’s upset of Yale on Feb. 10. He scored a career-high 29 points and made six 3-pointers.
• Cornell had a huge game from the 3-point line against Brown, going 12-for-23 from beyond the arc. Three different Big Red players had at least three 3-pointers: Gray, Chris Wroblewski and Drew Ferry.
• Ferry enters the weekend of Feb. 17-18 shooting just shy of 40 percent from 3-point range on the season. He’d made 67 of his 169 attempts, and he had knocked down at least two 3-pointers in each of his last four games.
• The Big Red’s defense paved the way to the upset of the Bulldogs on Feb. 10. It scored 23 points off 15 Yale turnovers.
• Dartmouth dropped to 0-8 in Ivy League play, and it had a 19-game losing streak in the conference through Feb. 12. The Big Green had come excruciating close to breaking that lately, however, losing in the final seconds against both Columbia and Penn, and also leading Princeton at the half before faltering after intermission.
• Coach Paul Cormier could be proud of the Big Green’s performance on the glass in the loss to Penn. Dartmouth dominated the Quakers 32-20, and it gathered 10 offensive rebounds that led to 10 second-chance points.
• On the negative side of the ledger, Dartmouth turned the ball over 19 times against Penn. Jvonte Brooks had seven on his own, nearly as many as the entire Quakers team, which gave the ball away just eight times in 40 minutes.
• This could be the third season in a row that Dartmouth doesn’t finish the season with a player averaging double figures in scoring. Brooks was the scoring leader at nine points per game through Feb. 12. R.J. Griffin led the team a year ago at 9.4, and Ronnie Dixon averaged 9.3 in 2009-10.
• The Crimson are getting a lot of publicity thanks to the success of alumnus Jeremy Lin. Lin has been putting up big numbers with the New York Knicks in recent weeks, and as “Lin-sanity” has spread throughout the NBA fan base, it never fails to be mentioned that the rising star played his college ball in Cambridge. The Princeton fans certainly noticed, with one fan carrying a sign that said “No Lin, No Win,”—though in fact even Lin couldn’t manage a victory at Princeton in his four years at Harvard.
• The Crimson’s bench scored 10 points in the loss to Princeton, with Corbin Miller getting eight of those and Christian Webster the other bucket. All of those points came in the first half, however, and the reserves were outscored by their counterparts on the Tigers 15-0 after halftime.
• The 70 points Princeton scored was a rare defensive lapse for Harvard. The Crimson had allowed only one other team to score 70 points all year, and that came in a nonconference victory over Seattle. Even ranked opponents Florida State and Connecticut didn’t manage that many points against Tommy Amaker’s squad.
• Harvard went 7-for-11 from the free throw line in the loss to Princeton. All four misses came from Kyle Casey, and all came in the second half.
• Penn committed just 15 turnovers last weekend, with eight against Dartmouth and seven against Harvard. Meanwhile, the Quakers forced 19 giveaways on Feb. 11 alone, as the Big Green struggled with Penn’s aggressive attacks on the ball.
• Fouls were problem for Penn in both games during the weekend of Feb. 10-11. It got called for 23 fouls against Harvard and 19 more against Dartmouth. That was a particularly large issue against the Big Green, one of the worst-shooting teams in the country from the field, because Penn allowed the visitors to get 19 of their 55 points at the line.
• Martin Kukoc certainly caught the attention of the officials during the Feb. 10-11 weekend. He played 21 minutes against Harvard and Dartmouth, and he committed eight fouls during that time. In the victory over the Big Green, the sophomore forward fouled out in 10 minutes.
• Fran Dougherty was a force on the boards over the weekend. He totaled 12 rebounds in the loss to Harvard and the victory over Dartmouth, and he led the team in that category both nights.
• Ian Hummer finally became the highest scorer in his family at Princeton with his 20 points against Harvard on Feb. 11. That gave him 1,039 for his career, eight more than his uncle John managed in his Tigers career. Hummer’s father, Ed, finished his career with 786 points. More important for the family dinner table, Hummer’s a junior—notable because his older relatives only played three years on the varsity thanks to the rules against freshman eligibility when they were in school.
• Princeton was at its best down the stretch in its victory over Harvard. The Tigers made eight of its final 10 shots against the Crimson, finishing the game on a 24-18 run.
• The Tigers began the game against Harvard by missing four of their first nine free-throw attempts. However, coach Mitch Henderson’s team came up big in the final three minutes, making 12 of its final 15 tries at the stripe to secure the victory.
• Brendan Connolly got just his seventh start of the season when the Tigers took on Harvard, but he made his coach look like a genius by coming up big against Keith Wright underneath. Connolly, a junior center, finished with 11 points, and he added six rebounds and an assist as well as some strong defense in the paint.
• Yale came back from a 21-point second-half deficit in beating Columbia 59-58 on Feb. 11. Prior to that, the largest deficit the Bulldogs had overcome this season was 13, which it did in victories against Sacred Heart and Rhode Island.
• Greg Mangano spent a good chunk of both the Cornell and Columbia games in foul trouble. He played just 32 minutes against the Big Red and 27 against the Lions, and he finished with four fouls both nights.
• Reggie Willhite hit the game-winning layup against Columbia with 13 seconds left, but he was equally huge in helping Yale stay in the game early despite Mangano’s foul trouble. Fourteen of Willhite’s 24 points came in the first half, and Willhite scored all but nine of the Bulldogs’ points in the first 20 minutes.
• It’s safe to say that Sam Martin likes to shoot from long distance. Of the freshman guard’s 54 shots this season through Feb. 12, 45 had been from beyond the arc.