With a record of 7-3, the Tigers headed to New England for the Dartmouth-Harvard trip needing a win on the weekend to punch its ticket to Ivy Madness. The fact that the Tigers’ record against their four remaining opponents contained all three of those losses and only one of the wins was a matter of grave concern to the Tiger staff. The lone win was a 69-68 nail-biter in Jadwin against the Friday foe, Dartmouth’s Big Green.
The staff itself suffered an unexpected loss when its head coach was unable to answer the bell in Hanover. Mitch Henderson was forced to scurry from the floor just prior to tip-off, suffering from what we shall describe as “flu-like symptoms.”
Perhaps distracted by the plight of their skipper, the Tigers struggled out of the gate. The tenacious Big Green always seem to punch above their weight against their foes from New Jersey. Held scoreless from beyond the arc the Princeton offense could manage a paltry 19 first-half points. The defense was doing another fine job, limiting Dartmouth to 26 and achieving a seven-point lead at the break.
Two years ago in Hanover, Dartmouth was the only Ivy team to claim a lead against the Tigers at the end of the first half. Brett MacConnell, running the team in Henderson’s absence, was hoping for another comeback in his head coaching debut.
The Tigers returned to the floor determined to restore order. They did with a furious 13-3 spurt in three minutes. Neither team could gain any serious momentum over the next 15 minutes plus. Princeton pushed the lead to 60-52 with a minute and a half remaining. The Big Green managed a spurt of their own going on an 8-0 run to close the regulation part of the game. The rally was capped by a stunning James Foye three-pointer with two seconds left. The Foye dagger sent the Tigers to overtime for the third time in the 2019 Ivy campaign.
For the third time, the Tigers prevailed but it was anything but easy. Jaelin Llewellyn scored the first five of the Tigers’ 17 points in the extra session to 16 for the Big Green. Ryan Schwieger’s career high 23, including 11-for-11 from the free throw line, several in overtime, was high for the Tigers. Stalwart senior Myles Stephens continued his season of workhorse efforts, adding 19 points and excelling on defense. Llewellyn’s 17 was a big help. The Tigers scored 58 points in the second half and overtime, including all seven of their three-pointers in 15 attempts. MacConnell’s career record stands at 1-0.
Harvard’s win over Penn set up a match of teams tied at 8-3 and each with a shot at the No. 1 seed.
Princeton arrived at Lavietes Pavilion relieved that Henderson appeared fully recovered.
Once again the Tiger offense sputtered at the start. The defense, however, was superb. Both teams pursued each other relentlessly, resulting in a low-scoring street fight in the opening 20 minutes of play. The Crimson held the Tigers scoreless in the final 4:40, and headed to the locker room holding a 23-22 advantage at intermission.
Princeton’s scoring woes continued in the early going of the second half. A decisive 9-0 Harvard run ran the lead to 32-24. Thanks largely to the heroics of Stephens, the Tigers kept things interesting into the final three minutes. The Tigers crept within four but could get no closer. Stephens canned 21 and played his usual outstanding defense. He and Brown’s Obi Okolie are prime candidates for Ivy Defensive Player of the Year and will face each other in what may be a decisive matchup at Jadwin on Friday.
Richmond Aririguzoh played his best game in two weeks, scoring 12 points while grabbing eight rebounds, mostly in the second half. He largely contained the Crimson’s great Chris Lewis for the second time this season. The Crimson did a fine job on the hot-shooting Schwieger, limiting him to 10 points, his lowest output in four games.
The Tigers committed a ghastly 15 turnovers, many resulting in Harvard scores. The Crimson also benefited from a 15-5 edge in second chance points. The final score was 66-58.
Yale’s loss at home to Columbia, perhaps not all that surprising in view of the Lions recent resurgence, puts Harvard in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 seed at New Haven.
Regardless of the seeding, it is likely that the Tigers will need to defeat Harvard and Yale (both 9-3 in Ivy play) on successive nights to claim the tournament title. It is a challenge the Tigers relish.
Meanwhile, the identity of the fourth seed will not be determined until the final weekend. Princeton has a huge role to play in the dizzying array of tiebreakers. Brown and Yale visit Jadwin on Mar. 8 and 9, the latter affair on Senior Night.
The Friday contest tips off at the unusual time of 4 p.m., evidently a function of the league’s burgeoning relationship with ESPN.