PRINCETON, N.J. – The Tigers’ Saturday night win over a travel-weary Dartmouth squad made the weekend a qualified success. Last year’s 0-4 Ivy start squelched the Tigers’ title hopes, casting their 8-2 finish as a clear case of “too little, too late.” But at 2-1 now, Princeton’s destiny remains within its control.
A year ago, Harvard snapped a losing streak at Jadwin that reached back 23 seasons. The historic win, 59-47, was made even more impressive by the fact that senior three-point specialist Laurent Rivard was held scoreless for the only time in his distinguished career by the Tigers’ Rookie of the Year, Spencer Weisz. Rivard was on hand to watch his successor, Corbin Miller, come off the bench to torch the Tigers for 19 points including five three-pointers in the first half. Miller’s fireworks spurred the Crimson to a 39-29 lead at the half. Wesley Saunders, with a lot of help from Jonah Travis and Siyani Chambers, made the lead stand up in the hard-fought 75-72 Harvard win. Travis contributed 14 from the bench, giving the Crimson 33 from non-starters.
In a cruelly ironic twist, Weisz, the Tigers’ leading scorer coming in to the game, was shut out at home for the first time in his young career. Rivard exited the arena with a smile on his face.
Six minutes into the first half, in a sequence distressingly familiar to the Tigers, Chambers assisted on a Saunders three to give Harvard the lead for good.
The Tigers gamely fought back in the second half, scoring six straight to cut the lead down to four points. Each time the Tigers threw questions at the vaunted Harvard defense, the Crimson found the right answers. The Tigers defended the three well enough in the second half, Harvard failed to convert from behind the arc, but Saunders did enough things well to keep the Crimson firmly in control. Tiger sophomore Steven Cook made things interesting with a game-high 21, most coming in the second stanza, as Princeton managed a very respectable 43 points against the League’s No. 1 defense. Saunders, the reigning Player of the Year, had a career-best eight assists with three steals. One of five double-figure scorers for the Crimson, Saunders’ steady play demonstrated once again why Justin Sears had better bring his ‘A’ game every night if he intends to grab the League’s “Best Player” crown this season.
The Tigers took care of business early against the Big Green, establishing the lead in the first minutes. Dartmouth did not lead at any point in this one. Peter Miller was dominant in the low post, scoring in double figures to garner Player of the Game laurels. Spencer Weisz recaptured the scoring touch that went MIA Friday and Ben Hazel continued his resurgence with another fine performance. Strangely, Jersey native and Dartmouth spark plug Alex Mitola suffered another poor night at Jadwin. The hero of Dartmouth’s huge win in Cambridge was not a factor, particularly beyond the arc. Without him, Dartmouth simply failed to establish any offensive rhythm.
The young Tigers came away from this one disappointed but aware that that they can compete with the league’s elite quintets. To win this one, the Tigers needed to make another three and defend Miller a little better. So close, but … the rematch on Feb. 20 awaits and the outcome is anything but a foregone conclusion. First, however, the Tigers have the tough Manhattan and Ithaca trip next weekend.