Everybody can take away from the inaugural Ivy League Tournament semifinals what they wish. Anti-tournament folks can point to the folly of a team that finished 6-8 in league play essentially hosting a squad that went 14-0. Pro-Palestra Ivy observers can point to what was a rollicking atmosphere with a mostly full arena during the first men’s semifinal. Pro-tournament, anti-Palestra fans can look to the dip in attendance following Penn-Princeton to make the case for a tourney at a neutral location more geographically equidistant for all the Ivies.
But what can’t be denied is that Saturday worked out in the best possible way for the Ivy League. Both the men’s and women’s No. 1 seeds won (with Princeton surviving playing Penn at the Palestra), while the No. 4 seeds acquitted themselves well, proving they belonged. Both men’s games went down to the wire, obviously maximizing the quality of entertainment.
Here’s the thing, though – if Penn hung on to beat Princeton, league officials and tournament proponents would have had to own it. #IvyMadness – to embrace the hashtag, you also have to embrace the second word of it. I’ll reserve further thoughts on tournament structure, location and other items until it’s over. For now, I’ll gladly let the Ancient Quaker have the final word.
For all the yapping about the Palestra, it adds special “Ivyness” to the event that no other venue can provide. It can’t see it leaving.
— TheAncientQuaker (@Ancientquaker) March 12, 2017
No. 1 Princeton 72, No. 4 Penn 64 (OT)
Lead changes? One.
Princeton never led in regulation. And it never trailed in overtime.
The Tigers looked shook for much of the game, particularly on the offensive end, but All-Ivy first-teamer Myles Stephens kept them within striking defense down the stretch, and Stephens’ putback at point-blank range of a missed Amir Bell layup tied the game at 59-59 with 5.3 seconds left and prompted an overtime period that Princeton dominated, sealing a victory that neither program will ever forget.
It was also Stephens who scored the opening basket of the extra period, giving the Tigers their first lead of the game 40:21 into the contest. They never looked back, applying superior on-the-ball defense that completely shut a deflated Penn squad down in overtime, as the Red and Blue were held scoreless in the first 4:15 of the period.
But just minutes earlier, it was Princeton improbably on the ropes, and the prospect of a team that went 14-0 in league play losing to a 6-8 Ivy squad on the latter’s home floor to open the inaugural Ivy men’s basketball tournament excited the partisan Penn crowd and horrified others.
Princeton’s possession prior to Stephens’ tip-in resulted in a Matt Howard defensive rebound with 12 seconds left following a missed Steven Cook jumper, which followed Cook’s offensive rebound off a missed Spencer Weisz three-pointer.
If there was anyone Penn fans wanted at the line in that moment with their team up 59-57, it was probably Howard, who had been the recent late-game star for the No. 4 seed. Howard’s jumper with 43 seconds left gave Penn that two-point lead in the first place, he was 2-for-2 from the foul line up to that point (despite being just 60 percent there on the season) and he had come through in the clutch for Penn in its win over Harvard.
But Howard missed the front end of a 1-and-1, resulting in the Bell drive and the ensuing Stephens tip-in.
A three-point attempt by Darnell Foreman landed well off the mark as time expired, and Princeton finally seized control from there.
Princeton had missed its nine previous field goal attempts over a span of 6:08 prior to Stephens’ game-tying putback. The Tigers’ biggest deficit was 44-34 with 15:32 left, and they trailed 33-30 at halftime.
The Tigers looked lost on offense in the first half, committing an uncharacteristic eight turnovers and allowing Penn to get out in transition at the other end of the floor. Bell was the only Tiger with a spring in his step in the first half, playing more aggressively (and perhaps loosely) on offense than his teammates.
Stephens took a while to get going, missing four of his first five shots and lacking any rhythm to his offensive maneuvers. But he opened second-half scoring with a jumper, added a block two Penn possessions later and gradually took over the game, slamming home a dunk at the 14:12 mark that signaled Princeton wasn’t going away despite having trailed by 10 just prior. All of Stephens’ four offensive rebounds came in the final 13:27 of regulation, none bigger than the last one. The sophomore guard and former Penn recruit finished with 21 points on 9-for-18 shooting, 10 rebounds and two blocks in 38 minutes.
In fact, it should bother Penn that the three Tigers who figured most in the No. 1 seed’s victory – Stephens, junior Bell and sophomore Devin Cannady (who went a crucial 10-for-10 from the foul line), will presumably all be back next season. IHO All-Ivy Player of the Year Steven Cook scored just 14 points in three games combined versus Penn this season, and Weisz shot just 3-for-13 from the floor Saturday.
But great teams win these kinds of games, and Princeton’s indisputably a great team. The better team doesn’t always win in sports, and the Tigers were a whisker away from one of the worst losses to Penn in program history. Instead, Princeton has now won 16 of its last 18 games against its archrival, including a 7-0 record for Princeton coach Mitch Henderson versus Penn coach Steve Donahue.
Will the Tigers be too fatigued by the extra period and stress of playing a loose Penn squad on its home floor to play to their full potential tomorrow versus Yale? Maybe, but I doubt it. The veteran Tigers should be used to this kind of turnaround with an extra element of travel that doesn’t come into play in the tournament.
Meanwhile, the Quakers have nothing to hang their heads about. They certainly had a lot to do with Princeton’s frequent discombobulation on offense, though some of that was unforced as well. Penn relished the role of playing with house money, racing out to an early 7-2 lead and relying on its underclassmen to carry the day – which they almost did. Freshman center AJ Brodeur played well, particularly early, scoring a 10-point, 10-rebound double-double, while rookie guard Ryan Betley led Penn with 18 points and 12 rebounds. In his final game in Red and Blue, Howard contributed 17 points and seven rebounds, although his missed front-end free throw with 12 seconds left probably and unfairly overshadows much of that. Penn wouldn’t have even been in this game if it wasn’t for Howard’s leading the team past Harvard last weekend, and losing Howard to graduation will be tough for the program.
Still, Penn is in excellent shape looking ahead to next season and beyond. Howard is the only contributor the team will lose next season, and Brodeur, Betley, Devon Goodman, Jackson Donahue and Darnell Foreman will almost certainly take another step forward together next season.
But this was the Tigers’ moment. Even at the Palestra, Penn couldn’t take it away from them.
No. 3 Yale 73, No. 2 Harvard 71
For the third time this season, Yale led Harvard at halftime, enjoying a 38-30 lead between stanzas. The problem for Yale was it lost those previous two games.
Yale finally hung on against the Crimson Saturday afternoon, avenging its two-point 2015 Ivy playoff 2015 loss to Harvard with a two-point victory.
Harvard freshman guard and Ivy Rookie of the Year Bryce Aiken put the Crimson on his shoulders down the stretch, going 7-for-11 from the floor in the final 9:50, but he couldn’t quite carry them through.
Aiken lost control of the ball on a drive through the paint with 24 seconds left and Harvard trailing 71-69, and after Yale sophomore guard Trey Phills split two free throws, that Harvard turnover was followed by another. Senior guard Siyani Chambers’ errant cross-court pass was easily intercepted by Yale freshman forward Jordan Bruner on a busted play, and Bruner’s ensuing free throw gave Yale a game-clinching 73-69 lead.
Freshman forward Miye Oni scored 17 combined points in Yale’s two losses to Harvard in the regular season, but he turned it up a notch on the Crimson Saturday, posting 18 points in 36 minutes, including a SportsCenter-caliber dunk late in the game.
Sophomore guard Alex Copeland didn’t score in the second half for Yale, but his 12 first-half points pivotally propelled the Elis to an early lead it wouldn’t relinquish, as the Crimson never led.
The main takeaway from this game is the prominence of the many crucial freshmen for both teams. Aiken, Oni, Bruner and Harvard’s Seth Towns and KenPom game MVP Chris Lewis comprise much of the immediate future for this league, and as we saw Saturday, that future is now.
Harvard’s season ended badly, with last-possession losses to Penn, Princeton and Yale. The Crimson will be back, though. But Yale really did enjoy some revenge for that ’15 loss to Harvard with a NCAA Tournament berth on the line. Coach James Jones said he watched film of Yale’s loss to the Crimson at the Palestra two years earlier “for motivation” and to “maybe help me coach a little harder,” according to the New Haven Register.
I guess it worked. Yale will get Princeton at noon on ESPN2.
No. 1 Penn 71, No. 4 Brown 60
Penn held on despite Brown seizing a 40-35 advantage early in the third quarter, going on a 21-4 run at that point to ice the game at home.
Michelle Nwokedi led all scorers with a career-high 25 points for Penn, adding 10 rebounds for the sixth double-double in the last seven games. Shayna Mehta led Brown with 19 points on 7-for-21 shooting in 35 minutes.
Penn can clinch its third NCAA Tournament berth in four seasons with a win over Princeton at 4 p.m. on ESPNU, a matchup that ensures the women’s final is just as it should be.
No. 2 Princeton 68, No. 3 Harvard 47
Princeton took care of business against Harvard, with Bella Alarie dominating to the tune of 17 points and 16 rebounds and Leslie Robinson adding 15 points and 11 boards. Madeline Raster and Sydney Skinner each registered 11 points for the Crimson, who were stymied early and often.