By Matt Noonan
CAMBRIDGE, MA – Consider this one of those “check the box” type of weekends for the Harvard University’s men’s basketball team, who’s currently on par to wrap up the Ancient Eight.
On Friday, they completed their first task, as they defeated a rather impressive Princeton University squad, 67-64.
“What a tremendous win by our kids, and our program,” said Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker. “Princeton has been an absolute sensational team and program in this conference forever, and we have the utmost respect of what they’ve accomplished, and how tough they’ve been against us.”
“There’s no doubt about it that we’ve always [been] looking up at [them] in some ways to try and figure out how to get out of a game against them,” added Amaker. “I just thought our defense, and our will to win [on Friday] was outstanding.”
Harvard mounted a small 7-0 lead during the first few minutes thanks to junior Kyle Casey, who led all scorers with 20 points, before Princeton’s sophomore T.J. Bray drew a foul and registered one point from the charity stripe. Bray’s stroke somehow electrified the Tigers offense, as seniors Douglas Davis and Patrick Saunders combined for four triples at 8:50, which helped Princeton pull ahead, 21-20.
Princeton then went on a 12-3 run, which was halted by freshman Steve Moundou-Missi, who’s layup at 3:38 rejuvenated Harvard’s offensive unit to end the half on a 7-0 run.
“We locked down and [defended],” said Casey of his team’s first half rally. “Against their offense, you’ve got to defend for 35-seconds, and you know, you breathe, they score, so we had to really lock down, stay discipline, and just defend, and make them take tough shots and finish the possession with a rebound.”
Davis, Bray and junior Brendan Connolly helped Princeton’s offense earn a 50-43 lead halfway through the second frame, which was eventually erased by Moundou-Missi, junior Brandyn Curry and senior Keith Wright, who helped Harvard regain the lead at 9:29.
Both teams then swapped a few baskets until Curry sank a critical trifecta at 6:54, which gave Harvard a 57-55 advantage. Curry then recorded a jump shot in the paint literally two minutes later before Bray connected from beyond the arc to make it 59-56 with 2:02 remaining.
“We have confidence in [Brandyn],” said Amaker. “He’s a confident player, and he’s been able to kind of lead us in these last couple games. [The] Yale ballgame, he was outstanding, and certainly [on Friday] in so many different ways.”
Bray then provided his team with an additional bucket in the paint before he fouled Casey, who marched to the free throw line and connected on both shots from the stripe.
Princeton then called a timeout, and penciled a play for junior Ian Hummer, who’s shot in the paint hit iron instead of nylon, which forced the forward to foul senior Oliver McNally, who wound up recording six consecutive free throws on three separate trips to the line to secure the victory, as well as a season split.
“I wasn’t always a great free throw shooter, [but] I worked really hard at it, and every time I get to the line, I tell myself, you’re a senior, you’re a captain [and] you have to make those,” said McNally. “I would have taken this type of game over a 30-point blowout because we’ve been in that situation so many times against Princeton in my four years.”
Harvard’s next task will occur on Saturday, when they welcome University of Pennsylvania to Cambridge for yet another critical matchup. The Quakers defeated Dartmouth College on Friday, 57-54, and have won four of their last five matchups, as well as remain in second place in the conference standings.
“It’s a quick turnaround, so it’s all about getting your rest, and coming back with a mental mindset to fight the next night,” said Casey, when asked about-facing Penn. “This league is won on Saturday nights, so [I’m expecting] a real, gutsy battle for both teams.”