CAMBRIDGE, MA—For the second time in as many years, Princeton guard Doug Davis drained a desperation heave—from near halfcourt—at the buzzer in a key matchup against the Harvard Crimson Friday night. But this time, it was not enough, as Harvard clawed its way to a 67-64 win over a Princeton squad that has, of late, been their closest rival. With the win, Harvard set a program record for wins (24), topping their previous best set last year during the 2010-2011 campaign (Harvard was 23-7).
“It was a little more than just a game for us,” quipped Harvard forward Kyle Casey, “A little something personal we had to throw everything into it tonight to pull it out.” Casey, who has been one of the key elements in Harvard’s attack throughout the year, took his play to another level on Friday night after a difficult outing in Princeton two weeks ago, in which the junior missed several key late-game free throws that allowed Princeton to establish an unassailable lead. This time around, Kyle was 7 for 13 from the floor and 5 for 6 from the charity stripe with 20 points. He also added 8 boards.
In the opening minutes, it looked like the Crimson might manage to run away with their second matchup against the Tigers. After a missed jumper by Princeton forward Ian Hummer to start things off, Harvard put together a 9-1 run in the first 3:30 of play. Kyle Casey nailed a 3 and added a jumper for 5, while Keith Wright and Brandyn Curry also tallied points in the early minutes.
Crimson hopes of an easy victory, however, were quickly dashed. A three from Crimson kryptonite Doug Davis (see last year’s tiebreak game) narrowed Harvard’s lead to 1 at the 13:09 mark, while a Patrick Saunders trey gave the Tigers a 21-20 lead at 8:50. A 9-3 Tigers run would leave Harvard, down 33-23, facing their biggest home deficit since their New Year’s Eve against Saint Joe’s.
The Crimson, however, ended the half with one of their strongest performances of the season to cut the Princeton lead to a single point to a single digit, 33-32. A gutsy three in coverage from Brandyn Curry at 1:46 was perhaps the most important play of the half for Harvard, as the junior point guard drew up and drained the shot from the left wing to narrow the lead to 3.
“I don’t feel anything, I don’t think about anything, I just play in those situations,” said Curry of the shot after the game. “If you’re thinking too much, then that’s when you tend to make mistakes.”
The start of the second half again saw a resurgent Princeton establish a stubborn advantage over Harvard. Doug Davis made a three to start off the scoring, and Tigers forward Brendan Connolly added a quick bucket on a layup in which he also drew a foul, but missed the ensuing free throw. A Jimmy Sherburne layup at 11:05 extended Princeton’s lead to 7, 50-43.
The Tigers lead, however, was to be short-lived. An and-one layup from Brandyn Curry narrowed the lead to two, and a steal (also Curry) on the next possession would set up the tying free throws from Keith Wright, 50-50.
While it was Wright’s free throws that tied the game, Oliver McNally—Harvard’s other co-captain—would seal it with some heaves of his own. McNally, who, at 89.7%, is the Crimson’s best free throw shooter, knocked down 6 of 6 in the waning minutes to lock down Harvard’s win.
“I wasn’t always a great free throw shooter,” McNally said, “but I’ve worked really hard at it, and every time I get to the line in those situations, to be honest, I tell myself, ‘You’re a senior, you’re a captain, you have to make it.’”
Tomorrow night, Harvard faces Penn in a battle of the Ivy League’s two remaining contenders. A win for Harvard would guarantee the Crimson at least a share of the Ivy League title.