When hostilities got underway in the first Ivy League Tournament action in three years, it was obvious that the Crimson were inspired by the gravity of the situation. They gave the Tigers all they could handle.
In the end, however, the Tigers held on in the closest Ivy game in Carla Berube’s two-season career at Princeton, 72-67. The Tigers needed six straight free throws from Kaitlyn Chen and Grace Stone in the closing moments.
Harvard simply refused to give an inch in this one, coming back from what looked like insuperable Tiger leads on no less than three occasions in the second half.
Early on, the Tigers sensed things would not be easy. The first quarter was a back-and-forth affair until the Tigers managed a little separation in the final three minutes to take a 19-13 lead.
This marked the first time Harvard showed it was not yielding. Playing one of best quarters against the Tigers any Ivy opponent has mounted this season, Harvard outscored the No. 1 seed in the second period, 19-16, sending the Crimson to the locker room trailing 35-32. For all intents and purposes, this was an even game with 20 minutes remaining.
Harvard has shown up as a strong shooting team from deep this season. The Crimson’s five made threes in the first half kept them in it all the way.
McKenzie Forbes (13) and Lola Mullaney (10) did the heavy lifting for the Crimson in the first stanza. For the Tigers, Player of the Year Abby Meyers registered 10 points, followed by Kaitlyn Chen with seven points. Defensive Player of the Year Ellie Mitchell grabbed 10 first-half rebounds.
The third quarter gave the Tigers an opportunity to press their advantage. With time running down, the Tigers grabbed an eight-point lead at 52-44 to close out the third period. Harvard struck back quickly on back to back threes to make the score 52-50.
Crimson within two. It was tighten-your-seat-belt time at Lavietes.
At the 6:45 mark, Forbes tied the score at 54 on two free throws. The problem for Harvard was that Forbes had three shots but missed the first. Chen answered for the Tigers with an “and one” to skate out of immediate danger, 57-54. A Mitchell defensive rebound propelled her to the other end for a score in the paint. Meyers and Cunningham gave the Tigers the lead at 63-56 with 4:07 remaining.
If the Tigers were breathing easier, you couldn’t tell.
Two Mullaney free throws and a Meyers three-pointer, one of the most timely in her storied career, left things at 66-58 Princeton at the 3:27 mark.
Over the next two-plus minutes, Harvard scored four points while holding the Tigers at bay. 66-64, with 46 seconds to go.
Harvard, forced to foul, put Chen on the line. 68-64.
A Mullaney three-pointer turned out to be Harvard’s last gasp, 68-67. Two more Chen free throws and a missed Harvard three, followed by a foul to put Grace Stone on the line for two more Tiger points, made the final score 72-67.
One key for the Crimson: 41% shooting on threes for 27 points (versus 21% and 15 for Princeton). Three of those threes came from first-year guard Harmoni Turner, who was cold in the first half (2-for-9) but then got hot and finished with 19 points and four rebounds. Harvard has flourished as Turner has developed this year, becoming the Crimson’s top scorer, and its biggest wins have been her biggest games.
Forbes, Harvard’s 6-foot junior guard, led the Crimson with 22 points Saturday and pulled down seven rebounds.
But Harvard had no answer for Mitchell, who dominated inside for 16 rebounds, turned up open for easy layups — 11 points on 5-for-6 shooting — and had arms long enough and hands quick enough for three steals. Princeton beat Harvard on the boards, 41-33, and on second-chance points, 17-7.
Farewell, Kathy Delaney-Smith. For the Tigers, it’s on to the Saturday night final against the Yale-Columbia winner.