Yale defeats Harvard, clinches share of first Ivy title since 2002

Javier Duren notched a winning stat line: 22 points, nine rebounds, three assists, two steals and one block at Harvard.(ivyleaguesports.com)
Javier Duren notched a winning stat line: 22 points, nine rebounds, three assists, two steals and one block at Harvard.(ivyleaguesports.com)

Yale is a win away from history.

The Bulldogs clinched a share of their first Ivy title since 2002 Friday night by defeating Harvard at Lavietes Pavilion in Boston, 62-52. The win, fueled by senior guard Javier Duren’s 22 points and nine rebounds, gives Yale the chance to earn its first NCAA tournament berth since 1962 with a win at Dartmouth tomorrow night.

The Elis’ win at Harvard, which has represented the Ivy League in the NCAA tournament each of the past four seasons, played out in surprising fashion.

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Yale-Harvard: The matchups that matter most

It used to always be this simple. Two teams — archrivals head and shoulders above the rest of the league — battle through the long slog of a 14-game tournament, rising above the Other Six to meet in an epic finale. With condolences to the P’s, this season, we return to that reliable formula under the New World Order as, for the second consecutive year, Harvard and Yale enter the final weekend as the only two teams still with a shot at the Ivy title.

Let’s take a look at the key matchups in this winner-take-all grudge match (though Brown and Dartmouth may have a few things to say about that on Saturday):

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The Game 2.0

Can Harvard break Yale's heart in "The Game" once again? (gocrimson.com)
Can Harvard break Yale’s heart in “The Game” once again? (gocrimson.com)

On Nov. 22, 2014, Harvard defeated Yale in a thriller on the gridiron just a few hundred yards from Lavietes Pavilion. This Friday, Yale will get its chance at revenge – not only for this fall’s loss, but also for losses in 13 of the last 14 football “Games,” as well as for four straight years of Harvard dominance in men’s basketball. However, when the Bulldogs arrive in Cambridge this Friday, they will not be focused on past results; they will have their sights set on the 2015 Ivy League championship. This would be Yale’s first conference title since 2002.

There is also no shortage of motivation on the Harvard side. The Crimson will go for its fifth straight Ivy title. The last a team to do that was Penn (six straight from 1970 to 1975).

Evidently, this is it. The winner of this game will clinch a share of the Ivy title. So the question looms: Harvard or Yale? Who will win Friday’s showdown? Who will hoist the 2015 Ivy League Championship banner? Who’s going dancing? Luckily, I’m here to answer that question. To begin, let’s take a look at a few key matchups:

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Crimson vanquish P’s, secure sole possession of first place

Harvard appears to be closing in on a fifth straight Ivy crown, but the Crimson aren't in the clear just yet. (Robert Crawford)
Harvard appears to be closing in on a fifth straight Ivy crown, but the Crimson aren’t in the clear just yet. (Robert Crawford)

It was about 4:00 on a Saturday afternoon in late January. Harvard had just suffered a crushing defeat to Dartmouth at home. The Crimson’s record was 1-1 in Ivy play. The Ivy season was still young, but to many this loss proved that Harvard was not the team it once was. The door was left wide open for Yale – in fact, the door had swung off its hinges. A few minutes after the buzzer sounded, the distraught Crimson players came back onto the floor to sign autographs for their young fans. At the time, the smiles on these kids’ faces made them look naive – but knowing how insignificant that loss seems now, perhaps those kids’ prophetic smiles proved they knew more about the Crimson’s future than the rest of us.

That hypothesis is supported by the next day’s headlines and the initial reaction to that second Harvard-Dartmouth game. A trusted source for Ivy basketball on Twitter ripped into Tommy Amaker for his lineup decisions and then stated, “When [Harvard] loses the league, this will be why.” A writer for our own Ivy Hoops Online wrote in a piece about Yale that “Harvard is not that good.” In the face of all of this negativity, Harvard basketball’s mantra became “regroup and respond,” and over the last month (during which the Crimson have won eight straight Ivy games), that’s just what this team has done. Harvard’s two wins this past weekend over Penn and Princeton, combined with Columbia’s victory over Yale on Saturday night, have placed Harvard in sole possession of first place (9-1), one game ahead of Yale (8-2).

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A tale of two halves is the tale of two wins

Siyani Chambers' step-back jumper just inside the three-point line buried Columbia with 2.9 seconds left, resulting in a 72-68 victory for the Crimson.
Siyani Chambers’ step-back jumper just inside the three-point line buried Columbia with 2.9 seconds left, resulting in a 72-68 victory for the Crimson.

This past weekend, Harvard continued its nerve-wracking habit of playing excellent basketball for only one half of the game, which ultimately led them to two more crucial victories over Columbia and Cornell. Unfortunately, the Crimson played one half on Friday and one half on Saturday that were certainly below the standard of a team that is fighting to be the best team in the Ivy League. So far, Harvard has gotten away with its heart attack-inducing ways, but the question looms: Can they keep this up for six more games?

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Crimson survives at Brown, prevails at Yale

Reports of Harvard's demise were proven premature in New Haven Saturday night.
Reports of Harvard’s demise were proven premature in New Haven Saturday night.

The Crimson’s season hung in the balance: There were eight seconds left and Harvard trailed by two points. A loss would seriously hurt the Crimson’s chances of even a share of the Ivy title.

This was not the narrative for Harvard’s Saturday night tilt against league-leader Yale, however – this was the storyline of their game against bottom-dweller Brown on Friday.

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Harvard responds with resounding wins at Princeton and Penn

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.

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Crimson collapse, and Big Green capitalize

Lavietes Pavilion hasn't hosted too many 26-2 runs in its day.  (gocrimson.com)
Lavietes Pavilion hasn’t hosted too many 26-2 runs in its day. (gocrimson.com)
Harvard’s 70-61 loss to Dartmouth was the culmination of every single thing that has gone wrong for the Crimson at some point this season. Critics of Harvard have pointed out that when Wesley Saunders isn’t “on,” they can’t win, that Harvard’s offense is anemic, that Siyani Chambers turns over the ball too frequently. One thing that Harvard had not been called out on – until yesterday – was its defense. Harvard struggled to get key stops when it needed them, which led to this deflating loss. But really, this was a tale of two halves… or four quarters, actually.

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Why Harvard won’t win the Ivy League this year

 

Tommy Amaker should be very afraid. (ESPN)
Tommy Amaker should be very afraid. (ESPN)

The Harvard Crimson are predicted to win the Ivy League. Led by senior standout Wesley Saunders and the highly touted head coach Tommy Amaker, Harvard has enjoyed immense success over the last several years. To the schooled eye and on paper, Harvard is the Ancient Eight’s best team.

But sports are not about who is better on paper, and nobody came here to play school. Anything can happen on the hardwood and nothing is a foregone conclusion. Harvard has not locked up anything yet—and it’s not going to. Come March, Harvard, like you and me, will be sitting at home. Here’s why:

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Crimson conquer first Ivy Foe, Miller lethal from long range

Harvard stifled Dartmouth for a 57-46 win in Hanover on Saturday night to move to 1-0 on this young Ivy League season. The win is the Crimson’s third straight, and their eleventh straight versus the Big Green. In Harvard’s most important tilt thus far, it took care of business. Out of the gate, the Crimson shined, making their first three shots. However, they only made one field goal in the next seven minutes of play, letting Dartmouth tie the score at eight. Then Corbin Miller got hot, posting the next 11 points for the Crimson. Harvard looked very streaky offensively in the first half, but Dartmouth’s shooting woes (27 percent from the field), coupled with Harvard’s stout D, gave the visitors a seven-point lead at halftime.

Harvard traded blows with Dartmouth in the second half, with the Crimson’s lead eventually reaching eleven, three minutes into the half. However, Dartmouth stayed within reach and was able to cut the lead to five only a few minutes later. With Saunders out due to foul trouble, Kenyatta Smith, Siyani Chambers, and Corbin Miller stepped up scoring Harvard’s first 22 points of the second half (that’s every point for the first 18:17 of the half). Strong late-game performances from the charity stripe by Siyani Chambers and Wesley Saunders sealed the Crimson’s first Ivy League victory. Though at the time the game seemed well in hand, clutch free-throw shooting down the stretch will be crucial to Harvard’s success against tougher Ivy League foes.

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