Off to the best Ivy League start in its history, Harvard could be poised for its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1946.
Riding their longest winning streak since that same season, the Crimson now have a shot to avenge the last-second loss that kept them from last year’s tourney.
No. 25 Harvard looks to snap its 22-game road losing streak at Princeton and earn its 10th straight victory overall when the longtime rivals square off at L. Stockwell Jadwin Gymnasium.
The Crimson (21-2, 7-0), whose 8-0 start was highlighted by a 46-41 upset of then-No. 22 Florida State on Nov. 25 in the Bahamas, extended their current winning streak to nine Friday with a 56-50 victory over Penn.
Beating the Quakers wasn’t easy for Harvard, which missed 15 of 19 3-point attempts and only broke open a tie game with an 11-2 run midway through the second half. Sophomore Laurent Rivard, who entered play as the team’s leading scorer at 11.3 points per game, suffered through his worst effort of the season by going 0 for 5 from the field and finishing with two points.
Freshman guard Corbin Miller helped pick up the slack by scoring a career-high 17 points and junior Kyle Casey added 15 as the Crimson kept their hopes alive for an unblemished Ivy League season, though coach Tommy Amaker doesn’t want to entertain such notions yet.
“We have a long way to go to think of ourselves as anything along those lines,” Amaker said. “We’re working toward becoming a contender on a consistent basis. But right now, we’re full steam ahead with what’s right in front of us.”
Harvard has won nine in a row for the first time since a 13-game run to conclude the 1945-46 regular season. Those Crimson went on to the only NCAA tournament appearance in school history, falling 67-61 to NYU in the third-place game.
It only may seem like 66 years since Harvard won at Princeton (12-10, 3-3). The Crimson have dropped 22 consecutive visits to their league rivals from New Jersey since a 63-57 victory Feb. 3, 1989.
Harvard and Princeton split their regular season meetings in 2010-11, and finished with identical 12-2 conference records to force a tiebreaker game at New Haven, Conn. The Tigers won that March 12 contest 63-62 on a buzzer-beating jumper by Douglas Davis to clinch the Ivy’s automatic NCAA tourney berth.
“Doug has an amazing mid-range game and it was an amazing shot,” Princeton guard Dan Mavraides said.
Mavraides graduated last spring, but Davis brings his shooting back to this matchup. The senior guard, who is averaging 13.6 points per game, finished with a game-high 20 while making 5 of 7 3-pointers to lead the Tigers over Dartmouth 59-47 on Friday night.
Davis’ performance Friday helped Princeton overcome a dreadful night from leading scorer Ian Hummer (16.5 ppg), who went 0 for 11 from the field and finished with four points - his lowest output since his 2009-10 freshman season.
Hummer averaged 14.0 points and shot 54.8 percent in last season’s three matchups with Harvard, while Casey posted an identical average while shooting 59.3 percent for the Crimson.
These teams will meet again Feb. 24 at Cambridge, Mass.