After two very difficult road wins at Dartmouth and Harvard, the Princeton Tigers extended their winning streak to an impressive eight games, including five league contests to start down the road to the Palestra. The one consistent thread for the Tigers during this run has been rock-ribbed defense, anchored by sophomore guard Myles Stephens, who is building an All-Ivy caliber resume. A huge ingredient for the Tigers has been the senior leadership from Spencer Weisz and Steven Cook, without whose contributions a tough win at Dartmouth would have been even more difficult and an improbable comeback at Harvard impossible.
It would be easy to point back to last season’s heartbreaking collapse and say that this year’s title run started simmering from the moment Javier Duren’s runner rimmed out at the Palestra on March 14, 2015. Certainly, that would be a convenient starting point for this narrative of redemption that culminated in this year’s seeding upset of the Baylor Bears. But anyone who’s been following the Bulldogs knows that this journey towards a title to call our own started long before that.
How did we get here?
There have been countless close calls since James Jones took the reins back at the turn of the century: the three-way tiebreaker in ’02 with Penn and Princeton, the thrilling up-tempo ’07 squad led by Eric Flato and Casey Hughes that started 9-2, beating undefeated Penn and sparking the only (non-Princeton) court storming I’ve ever witnessed at John J. Lee, the dangerous Greg Mangano-Reggie Willhite-Austin Morgan trio that raced out to fast start in ’12. But it wasn’t until Justin Sears arrived in New Haven that following summer that Jones could finally build around a true superstar in blue. And while getting to the Promised Land required contributions from everyone on this year’s squad from Blake Reynolds to Khaliq Ghani to Makai Mason, this was clearly Sears’ team.
But first, let’s go back to where it all began, back to a time when Yale basketball conjured up images of January hope and February despair, not the March ecstasy that we’ve come to know.
Penn 92, Cornell 84
Don’t look now, but Penn’s now fourth in the Ivy League standings. It’s an upper-tier slot the Quakers owe to an overeager Cornell defense that kept leaving Penn coach Steve Donahue’s players open in his return to Ithaca after leading the Big Red to three straight NCAA Tournament appearances from 2007-08 through 2009-10. Donahue was received warmly before the game, and then basketball happened. That meant more hero ball from Cornell, who didn’t have a starter other than freshman guard Matt Morgan score until 7:54 was left in the game. Of course, Robert Hatter added 21 points off the bench to complement Morgan’s 28-point performance, but Penn won courtesy of going 29-for-35 from the foul line and a career-high 25 points from freshman Jackson Donahue. Senior center Darien Nelson-Henry added 16 rebounds, 15 points and six assists, benefiting from Cornell’s defense of Penn’s ball screens. Cornell hasn’t had a winning season since Donahue left Cornell, and this season isn’t likely to break that sub-.500 streak.
Columbia 79, Cornell 68
Cornell’s gameplan was sound: Don’t sag in too much responding to Columbia interior attacks and try to disrupt the Lions with physicality on the perimeter. Cornell’s gameplan didn’t matter.
Columbia shot 13-for-24 (54.2 percent) from beyond the arc to pull away in the second half. A trio of Lions – Luke Petrasek, Maodo Lo and C.J. Davis – hit at least three treys, enough to make up for several bunnies missed inside and playing at a faster pace than coach Kyle Smith probably wanted. Cornell missed Robert Hatter for the second game in this series but benefited from freshman guard Matt Morgan’s 26 points on 9-for-23 shooting. For more on the game, read our Ian Wenik’s instant analysis.
Even after five straight Ivy titles and two NCAA Tournament wins, leading this year’s Harvard team to another title would probably be the greatest accomplishment of Tommy Amaker’s career. It’s not that Harvard doesn’t have talent – but other teams may have much more proven talent. Here are my thoughts about the ‘15-’16 Harvard basketball team, taking into account the players’ performances on October 16 at Crimson Madness (the season’s kickoff practice and scrimmage at Lavietes Pavilion, which is open to the public) and how last season unfolded.
We’re counting down the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s history as part of our Ivy League at 60 retrospective. We did the Crimson next because, hey, it”s their dynasty.
When Harvard players awoke on the morning of March 5, 2011, they were part of a basketball program that had never won an Ivy League basketball championship. That night, however, they would have a chance to make history. One win over Princeton would give the Crimson their first title and bury the demons of the past 50 years.
We’re counting down the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s history as part of our Ivy League at 60 retrospective. Harvard is next because why not turn fat cells into lasers?
March 6’s bout between the Yale Bulldogs and the Harvard Crimson was the rubber match of the 2015 Ivy League season. People (like me!) called it “The Game 2.0.” Yale came into Crimson territory and left with a big win, one that seemed to ensure that the Bulldogs would go to the Big Dance for the first time in 53 years. All Yale needed to clinch sole possession of the Ivy League title was a win at Dartmouth the next night, or a Harvard loss to Brown. As for Harvard, there was only one way left for them to tie Yale for the Ivy title: Defeat Brown the following night and pray for the Big Green to shock the Bulldogs in Hanover.
The Crimson took care of business at Lavietes Pavilion, beating Brown 72-62 behind a strong second-half surge. As the Harvard-Brown game ended, a group of diehard Crimson fans in Lavietes turned their attention to the Dartmouth-Yale game, which Yale led by two with 10 minutes to go. The teams battled hard until, with 24 seconds remaining, Yale led by three and had possession of the ball. Then craziness ensued.
We’re counting down the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s history as part of our Ivy League at 60 retrospective. Harvard is next because a Harvard study has predicted the Miami Dolphins are going to the Super Bowl, and that’s totally going to happen.
Going into the final weekend of the 2013 Ivy League season, Princeton led Harvard by half a game, after Harvard had been swept by the P’s only a weekend earlier. The Tigers were in control of their own destiny: three wins and they would be in the tournament. However, Friday night had yielded a Harvard win and a Princeton loss, essentially tying the two teams atop the conference. A Crimson win over Cornell and a Princeton loss to Brown would clinch the tournament for Harvard, but if both teams won out – as was expected – another Ivy playoff would ensue.
Harvard vs. Cornell began at 5:30 p.m. in Cambridge, while Princeton vs. Brown began a half hour later in Providence. Harvard led Cornell all game and won by nine points, behind 16 points from Siyani Chambers and 17 points from Laurent Rivard. Then all attention turned to Providence, where Brown led Princeton by four points at the half, leading many Harvard fans and players to stick around Lavietes Pavilion in case something miraculous happened. One fan was able to turn on the PA system, and he announced the score every time a bucket was scored. As the game wound down, Brown gained a commanding lead. The Harvard crowd became giddy with excitement as the Crimson clinched their second straight NCAA Tournament appearance (more on that later).
Check out the last few seconds of this video to see the Harvard fans’ reaction.
The Dartmouth basketball team on Tuesday raised a banner at Leede Arena to honor its CIT berth this season, the program’s first postseason appearance since 1959.
The banner read, “Fourth Place”.
Dartmouth then raised a 2014-15 Ivy League championship banner honoring Harvard next to the fourth-place banner.
“We made this happen,” Dartmouth forward Gabas Maldunas said.
Maldunas then told reporters a banner honoring him would be raised at Lavietes Pavilion next week. Maldunas said the banner will hang next to Harvard’s own 2014-15 Ivy championship banner and read, “Thank you, Gabas.”
“You’re welcome,” Maldunas told reporters about the scoop, which was later confirmed by Harvard athletic director Bob Scalise.