Princeton, NJ – Princeton held on for a 73-69 win off a last second lay-up from 6-4 junior guard Amir Bell to complete the season sweep over Harvard and lock up the Ivy League regular season crown. In the Ivy’s first year with a conference tournament, that regular season crown no longer means an automatic bid, so Princeton will need to defend their regular season championship next weekend at the Palestra. But that fact did little to quell the intensity of Friday night’s match-up of the Ivy’s top two teams.
In front of a raucous crowd at Jadwin Gym, the Tigers defense forced Harvard into 18 turnovers and held Crimson leading scorer, 6-0 freshman guard Bryce Aiken, to just two points. Harvard Head Coach Tommy Amaker lauded the Princeton defense for its ability to “play bigger than [its] size, cover multiple positions, and switch on anything.” Princeton has won 16 straight, its last lost coming in December to MAAC regular season champions Monmouth, a streak which Head Coach Mitch Henderson attributed to a combination of senior leadership and defensive effort.
Senior leadership was on display Friday night as 6-5 forward Steven Cook scored a season-high 30 points off 13-of-16 from the field. Cook played out of his mind, getting to the rim with ease and finishing with contact (Cook had three and-one plays). Fellow senior, 6-4 guard Spencer Weisz, struggled to find the net, going 2-of-11 from the field, but showed tremendous vision and poise with seven assists and just one turnover. The rest of Princeton’s scoring was done by sophomore’s Devin Cannady and Myles Stephens. Cannady, a 6-1 guard, went 3-of-8 from distance, one of those coming just before the half to give Princeton a 41-32 lead. Stephens, a 6-5 forward, hit 3-of-6 from downtown to finish with 18 points, and grabbed a huge offensive rebound on Princeton’s final possession that lead to Amir Bell’s game winning shot. Stephens’ nose for the glass and ability to cover every position is a major reason Princeton heads into Saturday’s matchup against Dartmouth with a chance to run the Ivy League table; something that hasn’t been done since Mitch Henderson guided Princeton to that feat as a player in 1998.
Despite the loss, which until this year would have eliminated Harvard from NCAA Tournament consideration, the Crimson are playing their best basketball of the season. The growth of the team’s freshman class is a major reason Harvard will most likely see Princeton again in the Ivy League Final. The Crimson started four freshmen, most notably Seth Towns. The 6-7 Forward scored a season-high 26 points off 4-of-6 from deep and two massive dunks. The long and athletic Towns has come into his own the past five games, averaging 20 points and seven rebounds and shooting 61 percent from the field over that stretch.
Harvard falls to 18-8 and will face 3rd place Yale in the first round of the Ivy League Tournament at the Palestra on the 11th. With the victory, Princeton wins their first outright Ivy League title since 2004. The Tigers will face either Columbia or Penn in the first round on the 11th as well.
This article was written by Robert Smuckler, a correspondent and scout for NetScouts Basketball. You can subscribe to our RSS feed from the upper right corner of our home page, follow us on Facebook, or on twitter.
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