Harvard entered tonight off a dominant performance against Penn, giving them two victories over the Quakers by a combined 50 points. Suffice to say they've got Penn's number this season. Princeton, on the other hand, has been having a rough year. as they entered tonight 3-5 in conference play.
Granted, four of those five losses (all except their first match-up with the Crimson) have been by three points or less, or in overtime. This is still a Princeton team that could win out to end the season on a seven game win streak and still finish with fewer than 10 conference wins for the first time in five seasons.
That said, Princeton has always been a good team and history is on their side. Harvard has not won on the road at Princeton in twenty-five years - back when exactly zero of the players playing in this game were alive. A streak like that is significant, regardless of what two teams' respective records are.
It sure looked early on like all that history was pummeling the Crimson, as they spent their time with one-on-one isolation possessions and low-percentage jumpers. The Crimson had zero points between the under-14 and under-seven TV timeouts and suddenly Princeton had a ridiculous 21-9 lead.
Wesley Saunders usually serves two functions for the Crimson; be the team's leading scorer, and shut down the other team's best offensive option with his lock down defense. T.J. Bray was immune to this in their last meeting (26 points) and seemed as though he would continue that trend with eight early points to lead the Tigers.
Harvard eventually was able to start slowing down their offense and working the ball down low to Steve Mondou-Missi, but it didn't show up in the bottom line, as the Tigers still led by 11, 27-16, at the official TV timeout with 3:15 remaining. As though on cue, Harvard seemed to suddenly shake their first half funk.
Siyani Chambers began cutting to the hoop, and Mondou-Missi got some quality open looks, and before you knew it, the Crimson closed the first half on an 8-2 run to erase a lot of the foul taste from the first half.
The second half started very slowly, as evidenced by Harvard's riveting 6-1 run in the first four minutes of the half. The Crimson continued to struggle to find any real rhythm, but eventually Chambers decided to start pushing the pace and it seemed to light a fire under his teammates, as Chambers' layup with just under 12 minutes remaining gave Harvard a 39-37 lead, their first since the opening basket of the game.
Princeton caught wise to the Chambers and Mondou-Missi ball screen action and switched to a 1-3-1 zone, but followed up a nice stop by watching Hans Brase biff an easy dunk and then Brandyn Curry drilled a three over that zone to increased Harvard's slim lead. Switch back to man-to-man, and the Crimson went right back to Mondou-Missi for another decisive jam.
Lost in all this, even to me, was the fact that Harvard had suddenly cranked out a 14-3 run and a 46-40 lead. A timeout settled things down for the Tigers, but it was too late at that point. Another 13-4 run pushed the lead to double digits and the Crimson put the game away.
Unfortunately for Princeton, they couldn't really turn the game into an outing where they extended the game by shooting free throws, but the game was so well played that it took another 30 seconds and four fouls just to put Harvard in the bonus. Given the way the last 10 minutes of the game played out, perhaps it's no surprise that the student section began chanting "Let's play football!"
Princeton faded down the stretch. This comes as no shock when you realize that this squad is a) young, b) not terribly deep, c) even younger and deeper after Denton Koon and Chris Clement were pronounced done for the season prior to this weekend, and oh yeah playing their second game in two nights. That said, this team will be good next season. Spencer Weisz, Pete Miller and Stephen Cook are all talented freshmen getting valuable minutes now, and they should form a strong core with Brase next season.
Tonight was about the Crimson, though. Curry racked up 17 points, Mondou-Missi notched a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds, and Siyani Chambers added 13 points, eight rebounds, and the energy his team needed to pull away for the 59-47 victory.