Harvard out of the driver's seat

March, 7, 2013
3/07/13
11:12
AM ET
All that stood between Harvard and a third straight Ivy League title was two weekends of games. With four Ancient Eight matchups left, two on the road and two at home, the Crimson were 9-1 in the conference and if they kept winning they would control their postseason destiny.

Then came Friday night at Princeton. The Crimson struggled mightily from the floor, shooting 0-for-8 from behind the arc and just 40 percent for the game in a 58-53 loss to the Tigers.

[+] EnlargeKenyatta Smith
Joe Murphy/Getty ImagesKenyatta Smith of the Harvard Crimson shoots over Joe Jackson of the Memphis Tigers in January.

Asked Wednesday if he attributed the stumble to his young team (led by sophomore Wesley Saunders and freshman Siyani Chambers) pressing, Harvard coach Tommy Amaker demurred.

The Crimson just didn’t play well enough to win, while Ian Hummer and the Tigers did, he said.

“I thought the kid Hummer was on a mission and played like it,” Amaker said. “I thought he really inspired their team. He made every big, winning play.”

Hummer finished with 23 points and 14 rebounds, both game highs.

When Princeton needed a big shot, rebound or hustle play, Amaker said, Hummer was there.

The next night, needing to rebound from the setback at Princeton, the Crimson got blitzed by the Quakers.

“I thought Penn just played very aggressively against us, pressured us,” Amaker said. “We got down early in that game, battled all the way back and couldn’t get over the hump there late.”

After the 75-72 loss to Penn, all of a sudden Harvard found itself in second place in the Ivy standings (behind Princeton). And with just two games remaining, Amaker’s charges no longer control their own destiny.

Princeton, 16-9 overall and 9-2 in the conference, has three games left and if it wins out will win the Ivy. Harvard, 17-9 and 9-3 in the conference, has two games left and needs to win out and get help from Princeton’s opponents (the Tigers play at Yale, at Brown and at Penn) to win the Ivy.

Amaker is hoping one of the oddities of the Ivy schedule helps his team this week. His players will have had five days to lick their wounds, physically and mentally, and prepare for the next challenge by the time they tip off against Columbia at Lavietes Pavilion at 7 on Friday night.

Though the Lions are just 4-8 in the Ivy and 12-14 overall, the Crimson can’t afford to take them lightly. Amaker said Columbia probably played one of its best games of the season against Harvard the first time the teams met (a 78-63 Columbia win).

“Certainly they’re a team that’s confident against us, that feels they match up well with us,” he said. “They do a heck of a job breaking their opponents down off the bounce. We’re gonna have our hands full.”

Because of this past weekend’s missteps, there’s only so much the Crimson still hold in their hands.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

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