Some unexpected contributors carried their teams on their backs this weekend, yielding varied results.
In Harvard’s 66-51 win over Princeton Friday night, the Crimson offense flowed through sophomore guard Christian Juzang, who posted 20 points – 12 more than his career high up to that point – on 6-for-10 shooting alongside four assists. Columbia rookie guard Gabe Stefanini notched a career-high 20 points in just 27 minutes in the Lions’ wild overtime loss at Brown Saturday night, 17 of them coming in the second half or extra period. After scoring just 26 points in the previous five games, Yale freshman guard Azar Swain registered 25 this weekend, his 7-for-12 (58.3 percent) clip from deep lifting an Elis squad that had been hurting from three-point range.
Sophomore forward Richmond Aririguzoh briefly carried the struggling Tigers to no avail late at Harvard with all of his career-high nine points on 3-for-3 shooting in just eight minutes in the second half. Penn junior guard Jake Silpe made three crucial treys in the second half at Dartmouth, his highest scoring total versus a Division I opponent since Feb. 26, 2016.
The moral of this story is you never quite know what’s going to happen – or who’s going to have to make it happen – come Ivy back-to-backs. Penn’s league-best defense got shredded inside on the same night that a team that was 0-7 in league action beat a school that went 16-0 a season ago. Brown’s high-octane offense was stymied at home Friday by a Cornell defense that has been downright porous for much of the season.
The beauty of all this is we get to live the surprise again next weekend, but the surprise is likely to be nasty for the Ivies whose contributors are the same two or three faces over and over again.
T1. Harvard (12-11, 7-1)
Delivering the most prominent individual career scoring high of the weekend was Chris Lewis, who repeatedly gouged Penn inside en route to 25 points on 10-for-14 shooting in the Crimson’s 76-67 win over Penn at Lavietes Pavilion Saturday night. One would have thought that 67 points would be enough for either team to win given both squads boast top-65 defenses nationally, but Lewis put that notion to rest in a 45-point second half for Harvard, scoring 12 points himself in the first 8:36 of the second stanza alone.
Saturday night’s contest featured one of the best defenses against three-point shooting in the country (Penn) against the league’s top three-point shooting team (Harvard). Although the Crimson were underwhelming from deep, Juzang and Seth Towns both hit dagger threes following Penn field goals in the second half, the latter answering a 9-3 Red and Blue run that had closed the gap to 70-63 with 2:32 to go. Justin Bassey scored in double figures for just the fifth time this season, further proof that the Crimson have more than enough options on offense to win an Ivy crown.
Harvard’s defense is a given, both in rim protection and on the perimeter. But its offense is obviously learning how to thrive without Bryce Aiken, who was absent from game action this weekend.
Four of the Crimson’s final six games are at home, and they’re surging at just the right time.
T1. Penn (17-7, 7-1)
Yes, Penn faced a steep challenge in navigating an approximately 19-hour turnaround from the end of its 64-61 win at Dartmouth around 9 p.m. Friday night to a 4 p.m. tip-off at Lavietes Pavilion Saturday afternoon, but a lack of fresh legs doesn’t satisfactorily explain Lewis’s dominance. Penn clearly needs to find a way to slow Lewis down the next time it meets with Harvard on Feb. 24, whether it’s with more double-team-oriented pressure or some other measure. The Crimson sans Lewis shot south of 39 percent from the floor and struggled to get going on the perimeter. Penn scored 43 points of its own in the second half once Ryan Betley finally got on the board, and AJ Brodeur and Max Rothschild combined for 26 points on 12-for-20 (60 percent) shooting.
Penn beat Dartmouth at Leede Arena for the first time in five seasons Friday night, led by Brodeur’s 20-point, 10-board double-double and holding the Big Green to 11-for-42 (26.2 percent) shooting from two-point range.
Up next for Penn is a road trip to Columbia and then Cornell, a trip the Red and Blue haven’t swept since 2012.
T3. Brown (11-10, 4-4)
Last season, Brown entered its third Ivy back-to-back 2-3 in league play with impressive road victories against Penn and Cornell. The Bears’ shot at an Ivy tournament berth slipped away that weekend, during which they got swept at home before subsequently losing three more consecutive games.
That’s why Brown’s 91-88 overtime triumph over Columbia at the Pizzitola Sports Center Saturday night was so important. The Bears were coming off a 78-60 home drubbing by Cornell and needed to eke ahead of the Lions in the race for an Ivy tourney slot.
They did just that despite trailing 88-85 with 23 seconds left in overtime. After that point, Brandon Anderson split a pair of free throws, with Tamenang Choh grabbing an offensive board off the latter and dishing to Obi Okolie for the game-winning three-pointer from the left wing with 9.2 seconds left.
Mike Smith had hit a three with five seconds remaining in regulation to force a 77-77 tie and subsequent extra period. Desmond Cambridge led all scorers with 23 points in just 30 minutes but walked off with an apparent injury. From Bill Koch of the Providence Journal:
Desmond Cambridge down and grabbing his left ankle after a collision with 6:22 left. Being helped off the floor and putting no weight on his left foot.
— Bill Koch (@BillKoch25) February 11, 2018
After the game, per Koch, Brown coach Mike Martin weighed in Cambridge’s apparent injury:
Brown coach Mike Martin on Desmond Cambridge (left ankle) — ‘He thinks he’ll be okay. We’ll see. We have a great medical staff and we don’t have to play tomorrow.’
— Bill Koch (@BillKoch25) February 11, 2018
Cambridge has been an electrifying force in the league in a season full of injuries and transfers. For his sake and Brown’s, let’s hope he’s okay.
Three of Brown’s last four games have now went to overtime, two resulting in Bruno victories. Four of Brown’s last six games are away matchups, featuring an Empire State trip that figures to decide at least one, if not both, of the Ivy tourney’s bottom two seeds. If Cambridge is healthy, you have to like the Bears’ odds to nab one of those.
Brown’s win over Columbia was the kind of mid-tier classic that wouldn’t have carried quite the urgency pre-Ivy Tournament that it did Saturday night. Of course, the Penn-Harvard matchup that afternoon would have carried more standings-fostered intensity for fans pre-Ivy tourney as well.
T3. Yale (11-13, 4-4)
During his appearance on this week’s Inside Ivy Hoops podcast, Yale coach James Jones indicated that the Elis needed a few more three-pointers to fall in order to turn it around in their first ever sub-.500 six-game start to conference play in his 19 seasons in New Haven.
Yale went 25-for-59 (42.2 percent) this weekend, shooting its way to a sweep that it needed despite giving up to 1.25 points per possession in an 88-84 win Friday over Columbia and 39 second-half points to Cornell in a 74-65 victory over the Big Red Saturday.
The aforementioned Swain was a crucial component of the Bulldogs’ bark on offense this weekend, but leading the way was Miye Oni, who filled the stat sheet via 17 points, seven rebounds and six assists versus Columbia and 19 points, six assists and six rebounds against the Big Red.
If Makai Mason returns to the Elis this season, that’ll be a wonderful bonus for Jones’s squad. For now, though, these are the Bulldogs tasked with earning a place in the Ivy tourney. Their next four games are road matchups, but ball movement might be their answer, especially since they get Cornell and Columbia again. Yale registered 48 assists this weekend and ranks 11th nationally in assist percentage.
T5. Princeton (11-12, 3-5)
Let’s start with the doom and gloom first.
Princeton would not be in the Ivy League Tournament if the season ended today and has now lost four straight Ivy games for just the second time in the past 10 seasons. Since scoring 100 points in a loss to Brown last Saturday, Princeton has shot 54-for-163 (33.1 percent) in its last three contests. Meanwhile, Princeton on Saturday gave up 1.18 points per possession to a Dartmouth offense ranked last in league play amid a 72-56 loss, continuing to struggle with rim protection.
One problem is the Tigers are still too reliant on the trio of Devin Cannady, Myles Stephens and Amir Bell for offense, not getting double-figures scoring from anyone besides them since last weekend’s 102-100 loss to Brown. Another is that Princeton’s defense remains less aggressive than previous renditions under coach Mitch Henderson. Princeton’s turnover percentage on defense is easily the lowest it has been in the KenPom era dating back to 2001, and its effective field goal percentage allowed on defense is also the highest it’s ever been during that span.
The good news for the Tigers is that they now get the two Ivies they handled convincingly at Jadwin Gym in mid-January: Cornell and Columbia. Penn was 2-6 last season in conference play at this point. It’s not too late for the Tigers to stabilize, but such a feat would have to begin and end on the defensive end of the floor, with more varied offensive contribution in between.
T5. Cornell (9-12, 3-5)
Cornell’s typically porous defense stymied Brown Friday night, with Stone Gettings turning in a 23-point, 10-rebound, four-assist, three-block performance. The Big Red had a rougher go at Yale, whose ball rotation outmatched them.
Despite a rare sub-100 offensive rating for Matt Morgan Saturday night, he still got into double figures, something he has failed to do only four times in his entire 73-game career.
Cornell’s remaining schedule is intriguing, consisting of a reeling Princeton squad whose 91-54 win over the Big Red last month is ancient history, Penn on the second night of the challenging Empire State back-to-back, Yale and Brown at home and trips to Harvard and Dartmouth. The Big Red need to win at least three of those five for a shot at an Ivy tourney berth, and doing so is very feasible.
T5. Columbia (6-15, 3-5)
A season ago, Columbia had the worst adjusted offensive efficiency in conference play. So far this season, it has the best.
Unfortunately, the Lions haven’t improved at the other end of the floor.
Columbia scored 84 and 88 points this weekend on the road and still lost both games. If the Lions narrowly miss out on the Ivy League Tournament for a second straight season, this will be the weekend that explains why.
At Brown, the Lions raced out to an early 17-7 lead but trailed 41-31 less than two minutes into a second half in which they notched 48 points.
Eight days after he scored eight of Columbia’s last 11 points in a 77-74 win over Dartmouth, Kyle Castlin nearly pulled the Lions through again at Brown, scoring in the paint to give them an 84-83 lead with 1:38 to go before notching a steal on Brown’s ensuing possession and making two subsequent free throws to build an 86-83 advantage 11 seconds later.
In addition to the aforementioned Stefanini, a potent threat from deep, the Lions also continue to get great stuff out of Lukas Meisner, who has now recorded double-doubles in four straight games.
Mike Smith is arguably the league’s greatest playmaker, posting 10 assists this weekend alongside just two turnovers while scoring 33 points.
Columbia hosts Penn Friday night in what should be a fascinating matchup between the latter’s excellent defensive perimeter rotations and the former’s dynamic offensive backcourt.
8. Dartmouth (5-16, 1-7)
Dartmouth finally broke through (on Flannel Night, no less) with a 72-56 win over Princeton, its first victory over the Tigers in four years and, of course, first Ivy win this season. The Big Green thus snapped a 10-game losing streak dating back to December, aided by Adrease Jackson’s 16 points off the bench against a hurting Princeton interior defense. Dartmouth had let a 55-51 lead over Penn with 4:13 to go slip away the previous night, so it’s great that the Big Green at long last ended their streak of losing games at the very end.
The Big Green still have yet to lose an Ivy matchup by more than 10 points, and they’ve been able to mitigate the impact of Evan Boudreaux’s departure by relying on a combination of rookies Jackson and Chris Knight in addition to sophomore Will Emery, who posted a 14-point, 12-rebound double-double versus Penn. Dartmouth’s defense is significantly better than it was last season during league play, as rim protection is not really a concern anymore, particularly with Knight around. Sweeping Yale and Brown next weekend certainly isn’t out of the question, and KenPom favors Dartmouth in its season-ending home matchups versus Columbia and Cornell. With the league’s mid-tier in a full-blown traffic jam, the Big Green could very well remain in contention for an Ivy tourney slot until the final weekend for the second straight year.