1. As usual, Harvard and Princeton produce fireworks. In my dream world, the Ivy League’s “14-game tournament” would be replaced with a 15-game head-to-head series between Princeton and Harvard. As a Cambridge resident and Princeton graduate, perhaps I’m a bit biased, but I don’t think I’m alone — tickets for Friday night’s game at Lavietes Pavilion were sold out before the season even started. Harvard-Princeton has been the dominant rivalry of the current decade, and this season’s first meeting lived up to its hype.
Harvard led for most of the first half, but its advantage was rarely greater than one possession, thanks largely to Princeton center Hans Brase, who outmaneuvered Harvard’s forwards with superior shooting (three treys) and quickness (three drives from the perimeter). Brase scored Princeton’s first 11 points and had 17 at halftime, which the Crimson entered with a one-point lead.
The Tigers pulled even at 42-42, but Harvard broke the game open with an 8-0 run, leading by as many as 15 points. A late run, fueled by poor free-throw shooting and ridiculous hero-ball by T.J. Bray, brought the visitors within four points, but the Crimson held on 82-76 for its fourth straight home victory over Princeton. “It’s always fun to play Princeton,” said Wesley Saunders, who led Harvard with 24 points. “Everybody came out … it was a great atmosphere.”
2. Injuries strike Harvard again. Early Friday morning, the Harvard Crimson reported (and the team later confirmed) that Kenyatta Smith will miss the rest of the season after reinjuring his foot; then at game time, Jonah Travis and Agunwa Okolie were wearing suits, sidelined by their own injuries. The Crimson has gotten used to reshuffling their rotations, as Saunders and Brandyn Curry also missed time with injuries this year. “That’s kind of been a theme this season — guys getting injured and other people having to step up,” Saunders said.
Harvard’s biggest strength is its sheer quantity of impact players, so despite missing three members of its rotation — none of which has started a game this season — the Crimson still goes seven or eight deep (depending on Zena Edosomwan’s form). But with this weekend marking the start of Ivy League back-to-backs, and with another game tomorrow against Penn,
3. Speaking of Penn… Against a Dartmouth team that figured to be reeling in the wake of do-everything forward Gabas Maldunas’ season-ending injury, Penn looked less like the team that beat Princeton a few weeks ago and more like the team that went 3-11 in non-conference play, committing 18 turnovers in a 67-58 loss. Meanwhile, Columbia lost by 10 points at Yale, leaving Harvard as the league’s only undefeated team. Harvard doesn’t have the Ivy League title sewn up yet, but unless Princeton or Columbia plays out of its mind down the stretch, the Crimson will have some margin for error in its quest for a fourth straight title.