What Happened Last Week: Harvard beat Yale 52-50 on the road, pulling into a tie for first place at 5-1. The Crimson almost slipped up at Brown the previous night, but after pulling out an overtime win in Providence, they shut down the Bulldogs with stifling defense. Every other Ivy League team is at least 1.5 games back after Princeton beat Columbia but lost at Cornell.
1. This is how a 16-11 first half happens:
We’ve known for weeks that Harvard and Yale can play ugly games, but Saturday was a rockfight even by their standards. The Bulldogs went 3-22 from the floor in the first half, and the shot chart doesn’t do it justice — they weren’t just getting bad bounces; they were missing badly with brick after brick. But Harvard couldn’t do much better.
The Crimson’s vaunted interior defense, despite missing Kenyatta Smith, was the deciding factor. Yale’s outside shooting heated up after halftime, but the Bulldogs finished the game 6-21 in the paint, and they were mostly kept off the offensive glass and the free-throw line. Steve Moundou-Missi played excellent defense on Justin Sears: After averaging a league-best 21.0 ppg through five games, the star forward managed just nine on Saturday.
The most telling part of Sears’ shot chart isn’t the makes or misses — it’s all the white space. His usage rate Saturday was just 19%, his lowest in Ivy play over the last two seasons. After Sears’ putback pulled Yale within three points midway through the second half, he got just one touch in the paint on his next 10 offensive possessions (not counting a four-minute rest). The Bulldogs scored on only one of those, as Harvard built a decisive 10-point lead.
The Crimson did great work on Sears, but Yale’s guards were also too quick to rush shots once they were behind, instead of waiting to find one of the league’s best players inside.
2. Through 70 minutes this weekend, Princeton was on track to keep its name in the title conversation. The Tigers downed Columbia with a second-half scoring barrage, scoring 1.46 points per possession after intermission for a 74-62 win. But after building a double-digit lead with eight minutes to play at Cornell, Princeton allowed a 22-0 run, dashing its hopes of an impressive road sweep. The Big Red’s defensive pressure took the Tigers out of their offensive sets and got some steals, allowing Cornell to score in transition and sustain its run.
3. After falling behind 12-0 out of the gate, Penn rallied for an unlikely comeback at Cornell on Friday. Sam Jones gave the Quakers their first lead with a three-pointer in the final minute, and after Shonn Miller evened the score, Tony Hicks hit a game-winning floater with four seconds remaining. Hicks scored 25 points and the visitors shot 10-19 from distance, overcoming a 17-7 turnover disadvantage to win a surprisingly offense-heavy game.
Player of the Week: Wesley Saunders, Harvard — Saunders carried Harvard to victory at Brown, scoring a career high 33 points on a 41% usage rate with 10 rebounds. None of those points were bigger than his buzzer-beating putback at the end of regulation to force overtime. Like everyone else, he was less efficient at Yale, but his game-high 16 points allowed Harvard to get back into first place.
Rookie of the Week: Sam Jones, Penn — Many Penn fans have complained that Jones, the team’s sweetest shooter, has been given few opportunities this year. But with the Quakers trailing by two in the final minute at Cornell, Jerome Allen called a set play for the freshman — and he delivered with a clutch three-pointer. Jones followed with a career-high 23 points (on 7-12 shooting from distance) at Columbia while playing through torn ligaments in his left elbow.
The Week Ahead: After two weekends on the road, Harvard returns to Lavietes Pavilion, where it will play six of its final eight games. The Crimson won’t have an easy time there, hosting Columbia and Cornell. Meanwhile, Yale has to make the Penn-Princeton road trip, including will be a difficult Saturday visit to Jadwin Gym.
- Harvard (5-1) — The style of refereeing will have a huge impact on Saturday’s Harvard-Cornell game. If the Big Red is allowed to press physically, they can get steals from Siyani Chambers and Harvard’s other guards and convert them into fast-break layups, perhaps following the Holy Cross blueprint for an upset. But if the whistle is tight, the Crimson will be able to protect the ball and play a half-court game, which won’t be kind to Cornell’s offense.
- Yale (5-1) — The law of averages hit Yale hard this weekend. Before their brutal shooting performance against Harvard, the Bulldogs couldn’t miss against Dartmouth, posting a 66% eFG thanks to 13-21 three-point shooting (including 5-6 from Jack Montague).
- Princeton (3-2) — Princeton, Columbia and Cornell have each outscored Ivy opponents by .04-.06 points per possession, and all three now have Pomeroy rankings between 177 and 187. Because they just beat the Lions on the road, and because Cornell lost to Penn at home, I’m putting the Tigers at #3 this week, but there’s still no real distinction in this tier.
- Columbia (3-3) — In its 83-56 rout of Penn, all nine Columbia regulars posted an offensive rating above 100, leading the hosts to 1.41 points per possession. But before laughing at the Quakers, Lions fans should take note of the previous night, in which all eight Princeton regulars had triple-digit offensive ratings in Levien Gym.
- Cornell (3-3) — Led by Shonn Miller and David Onourah, Cornell has blocked an obscene 22.5% of shots in Ivy play. (For context, the D-I leader in block rate is Kentucky at 19.6%.) On Saturday, more of Princeton’s two-point attempts were swatted (eight) than went in the net (seven).
- Dartmouth (1-5) — The Big Green is now tied for last place after losses at Yale and Brown, but they have finished a brutal stretch of five straight road games. With six of their final eight at home, Dartmouth’s fortunes should turn around, especially if Miles Wright plays like he did Saturday (21 points, six rebounds, 7-14 shooting).
- Penn (2-3) — After the Quakers beat Cornell despite 17 giveaways, The Daily Pennsylvanian’s Steven Tydings discovered that Penn had committed at least 10 turnovers in 78 straight games. Naturally, the three-year streak ended one night later, when the Quakers had just eight miscues at Columbia — but that was likely little consolation in a 27-point defeat.
- Brown (1-5) — Without Leland King, the Bears may have to rely on a rotating cast of scorers. Friday’s hero was Tavon Blackmon, who had an efficient 25 points and nine assists against Harvard. With the point guard held in check Saturday, sharpshooter JR Hobbie took over, nailing five threes on eight attempts. Rafael Maia added 10 points, 13 rebounds and four assists, helping the Bears overcome 19 turnovers (including at least one from every player) for a long-overdue first victory.