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.”