With one Ivy weekend in the books, the Crimson are looking up at Yale in the Ivy standings. Harvard is fortunate to only be one game back, however, considering the two tough road tests that loomed prior to this past weekend. Penn-Princeton on the road doesn’t mean two guaranteed losses like it used to for Harvard, but that doesn’t mean it’s a cakewalk, either. In two must-win games, Harvard needed to respond with two wins. They did just that, and more.
On Friday, the Crimson headed to New Jersey to face the Tigers of Princeton. Not only were they facing a formidable Princeton bunch; they were playing in an arena in which only one Harvard team over the last 26 years had won a single game (prior to Friday). Luckily for Harvard, 14 current Crimson players were also on the team that downed Princeton at Jadwin Gym a year ago.
Both teams started slowly on offense, something that has been true for most Harvard games recently. Five minutes in, the score was only 2-2. Then the game, and Harvard’s Corbin Miller, began to heat up. Still coming off the bench (which comes as a bit of a surprise), Miller quickly provided the spark for Harvard, hitting tough shots from all over the floor. Miller’s aggressiveness continues to grow, and his repertoire of ways to score is expanding by the day. Miller had 17 points in the first half and ended up with 19. He has been not only one of Harvard’s best offensive players, but also one of the Ivy League’s best players so far.
Another key man off the bench for the Crimson was senior Jonah Travis. Travis, unlike Miller, did most of his damage in the second half, scoring 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting from the field. For a guy who always plays with such intensity, grit, intelligence, and skill, this comes as no surprise. What is surprising is the fact that Amaker rarely gives Travis quality minutes. But that may change, given this past weekend’s performances by Travis and Harvard’s other big men. Amaker, like all of us who also watch the games closely, must be beginning to realize who he needs on the floor to win (Chambers, Miller, Saunders, Moundou-Missi and Travis are the five most productive players in my view).
As usual, Wesley Saunders also played a big role on both sides of the ball, and he continues to stake his claim for Ivy Player of the Year (even with such stiff competition this season). He finished with 14 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and three steals, including one to ice the game. If he can cut down on his turnovers (four vs. Princeton), he will be especially lethal going forward.
But, in one of the Crimson’s best offensive showings all year, they still managed to almost blow the game at the end – which is scary. This happened because of little things: missed free-throws, careless passes, and a lack of urgency while playing with the lead. Eventually, the Crimson escaped with a crucial win by the score of 75-72, their first 75-point game in two months (they defeated UMass by the same score).
With the weekend’s main hurdle cleared, the Crimson traveled to Philadelphia to face Penn at the Palestra on Saturday. In a game between one of the league’s finest and one of the league’s bottom-dwellers, Harvard was dominant. They combined the potent offense they displayed against Princeton with their typical stingy defense (and with Penn’s abysmal play), handing Penn a loss — and their lowest point total versus Harvard since 1942. How lopsided was this game? After one half, Harvard’s Siyani Chambers was “losing” to Penn 15-12 – and the entire Crimson squad was up 36-15. The shots fell for Harvard from the opening tip-off, and they piled it on, winning the game by a final score of 63-38.
What does this mean going forward? Penn is no Yale, but they are still a formidable opponent, and Harvard absolutely embarrassed them in their own building. Harvard made Penn look a lot worse than they are, so this win is a major reason for Crimson optimism. If Harvard can keep this up, it could easily win its fifth straight Ivy title. Next weekend’s games will tell us a lot about how “easy” this pursuit will be.
With two critical road wins under their belt, the Crimson’s road tests continue on Friday (at Brown) and Saturday (at Yale). While the Ivy race has been exciting so far, the best is yet to come. The Harvard-Yale game, in particular, is one of the most highly anticipated games of the Ivy season. It will be a tough matchup, but if the Crimson play with the confidence and consistency they displayed this past weekend, it could very well go their way.