NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- Maybe there’s something to this Tiger blood thing.
How else do you explain designing a last-second play for a 39-percent shooter who was 3-for-13 in the game with a trip to the NCAA tournament on the line?
Princeton coach Sydney Johnson did exactly that and guard Douglas Davis did his part too. Davis took an inbounds pass from Dan Mavraides and buried a jumper from the left side at the buzzer to give the Tigers a 63-62 win over Harvard in Saturday’s Ivy League playoff at Yale’s John J. Lee Amphitheater.
“I didn’t really know what was going on when the ball went in,” Mavraides said. “I think I might have blanked out and the next thing I knew I was on the ground screaming. It was a great feeling. When it went in, it was like my life flashing before my eyes except it was my four years here, from the worst team in Princeton history all the way to this.”
With the win, Princeton (25-6) gets a 24th trip to the NCAA tournament while Harvard (23-6), which was looking for its first NCAA trip since 1946, now has to wait until Sunday evening to find out if its season will continue with an at-large bid.
Davis finished with a team-high 15 points for Princeton, which had three other players in double figures. But all anybody will remember is that final shot by the junior from Philadelphia.
“It was the designed play and it was basically a read for Dan [Mavraides] and it was a good read,” Davis said after the game, with the recently cut down net draped around his neck. “I was able to get open and he made a good pass. I knew I had a little bit of time to dribble and get some space.
“I got a good screen from Will Barrett. At first I thought they were going to deny me the ball, but then I was able to get open. I took a couple of dribbles and was able to fade. It felt good and went in. I fell on the ground and that was the worst decision I’ve ever made because everybody just jumped on me.”
Davis, who had hit game-winning shots in high school but nothing like the magnitude of this one, had the good (or bad) fortune to have Saturday’s heroics and instant crushing celebration take place right in front of the Princeton student section.
And while Davis was occupied with his frenzied classmates, referees Earl Walton (of recent Big East Tournament infamy), Paul Faia and Louie Andrakakos were over at the scorers’ table to ensure the shot got off before the triple-zero red light.
It did and the neutral-site celebration resumed -- at least for one half of the gym.
“The ending was a dagger,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “Your heart just sinks. But it was a special afternoon for our league, a great game and a great crowd.”
After the game was well over and the on-court celebration had subsided, Amaker’s counterpart sounded more relieved than anything.
“I think Harvard is really, really good and I want to give credit to them, but I do think we’re in a different place because there’s an expectation to win here,” Johnson said. “And that’s a different responsibility. These guys have been carrying so much weight so I’m just so pleased for them to be able to finalize that dream. It’s been a grind and a big challenge.”
Johnson and Princeton get about 24 hours to enjoy this win before finding out what the next challenge will be. And in that time, it’s likely that Davis’ buzzer-beater will be replayed over and over again.
And although Johnson was much happier with his result compared to Amaker’s, the Princeton coach was just as satisfied that his Tigers did exactly what they planned to do on that last-second shot.
“It looked true, it was a perfect pass, great execution and the right shot,” Johnson said. “I was just ready to shake hands either way. We would have been crushed, there’s no doubt, if that shot didn’t fall down. But that’s exactly what we wanted and we’ve got to be able to live with that. You understand that if you execute and you battle, you’ve got to be able to live with the results.
“There’s no win promised to anyone.”
But there is another game promised to Princeton in next week’s NCAA tournament, thanks to some last-second heroics -- with just maybe a little Tiger blood mixed in for good measure.