For one night, the men’s basketball team was back in the spotlight.
While 2011 was Princeton’s year — the 8-0 start to Ivy League play, the buzzer-beater in the Ivy playoff, and the last-second finish against Kentucky — 2012 had belonged to Harvard. The Crimson won its first eight games and brought a 21-2 record into Jadwin Gymnasium on Saturday, dreaming of a perfect Ivy League season after sweeping the first half of conference play.
Most eyes were on the nationally ranked visitors, who could have avenged their playoff loss and taken a nearly insurmountable lead in the Ivy League by completing a road sweep of the league’s traditional powers, Penn and Princeton. But in front of the ESPNU cameras, the Tigers — sitting at just 3-3 in league play — stole the show. After trailing by five points at halftime, Princeton evened the game early in the second period, setting the stage for a back-and-forth slugfest that had 5,266 fans — the largest crowd at Jadwin in almost exactly two years — constantly on their feet. After 10 minutes of tense action, the Tigers smacked Harvard with a 13-3 run late in the game and held on for a 70-62 victory.
Whether or not Princeton is the second-best team in the Ivy League will be determined in the next four weeks; Penn and Yale have better records and head-to-head victories, though Princeton will be at home for both rematches. But after handing Harvard four of its first last five Ivy League losses — and winning 23 consecutive meetings at Jadwin Gymnasium — it seems clear that the Tigers are the Crimson’s toughest matchup.
Princeton has gone through its share of struggles offensively this season, and against a Harvard defense that came in allowing just 53.6 points per game — third-fewest in the nation — it seemed likely that the Tigers would struggle. Instead, they dropped 70 points on 61 possessions, one of their best performances this year. The method was familiar to any Jadwin veteran: Cut to the hoop.
“Harvard likes to get up into the passing lanes, and that’s when our backdoor offense is huge for us,” point guard T.J. Bray ’14 said. “A lot of stuff was open backdoor tonight.”
The Tigers’ time in the spotlight likely will be fleeting: Harvard is still a game up on the rest of the league, has the most talent and plays the rest of its tough games — including a rematch with Princeton Feb. 24 — at Lavietes Pavilion, where the Crimson has the nation’s second-longest home win streak.
But as they stormed the court after the Tigers’ first victory over a ranked opponent since 1997, Princeton fans were happy to enjoy the moment while it lasted.
Ian Hummer ’13 led the Tigers with 20 points on Saturday, a vast improvement from Friday’s game against Dartmouth, in which he shot 0-for-11 from the field. The forward credited some of the improvement to his father, Ed Hummer ’67, and his uncle, John Hummer ’70, who were once strong players for Princeton. “I talked to my dad and my uncle, and they gave me some advice,” Ian said in the postgame press conference. “They said, keep your head up and take what comes to you.” About an hour after the Harvard game ended, Ian, Ed and John stood alone on Carril Court, walking through a few of the night’s big plays.
Traditionally, the Dartmouth-Harvard road trip has been the toughest weekend in Ivy League WOMEN’S BASKETBALL. Princeton had no trouble this year, dropping a weak Dartmouth squad 72-41 and then avenging last year’s defeat at Lavietes Pavilion with an 84-56 blowout, in which Niveen Rasheed ’13 broke the 1,000-point mark. With a two-game lead on the field and an average victory margin of 31 points, the only way the Tigers won’t win a third straight conference title is if the aliens from Space Jam visit Jadwin to steal their basketball-playing skills, and soon.
Another week, another sub-4-minute mile from Peter Callahan ’13. And from a historical standpoint, that may have only been the fourth-best performance from MEN’S TRACK AND FIELD this weekend. Three other Tigers set Ivy League records: Donn Cabral ’12 in the 5,000 meters (13:45.92), Joe Stilin ’12 in the 3,000 meters (7:53.15) and Conor McCullough ’14 in the weight throw (76 feet, 1 inch).
Three Princeton squads took home Ivy League titles this weekend: MEN’S FENCING and WOMEN’S FENCING went undefeated at the Ivy League round-robin, while MEN’S SQUASH closed out a perfect conference season with wins over No. 6 Cornell and Columbia. After winning “only” two league titles in the fall, Princeton is now even with its record-setting pace in 2010-11, when the Tigers won 15 championships. While getting back to that number would take some luck — a total around 13 is probably more likely — it is certainly within reach.
Kevin Whitaker ’13 is an economics major and Daily Princetonian sports editor.