- Kurt Vonnegut
PRINCETON, N.J. - About a month ago, I mentioned one of my regrets for the season was not seeing a game in Jadwin Gym.
It took four hours to get there on a Friday afternoon, but with Princeton playing Harvard in a game that could decide the Ivy League title, it was well worth it (normally it's much less than that, but getting through New York and New Jersey on a Friday? Good luck.)
I was struck at how different Jadwin looked compared to when there was no action taking place there, with bleachers on three sides that are brought in just for game day.
I'll have to admit I was torn. Princeton might have the most beautiful campus I visited all season, with century-old houses lining the outside and every building the perfect mix of history and practicality. It was so nice that I immediately e-mailed my most academically adroit soccer player.
"Can you get into Princeton?"
"Hell no. I wish."
But the dilemma was that Jadwin was not a great place to watch a basketball game. My seats were seemingly miles away from the court, and taking a quick jaunt around the place, I really couldn't find where the great seats were, possibly the student section that was directly below me.
Two people near me (I'm pretty sure one was a Harvard supporter in Princeton's defense) were talking on their phones as the national anthem started to play (I'd like to see them try that at West Point), and it was a late-arriving crowd, some of which is understandable with a 7 p.m. tip-off on a Friday night on a campus with nothing but two-lane roads in and out. However, combined with the distance from the court, people walking up and down the aisles made it nearly impossible to concentrate on the game at hand for the first 10 minutes.
(Interesting stereotyping note: The couple sitting next to me conversed in French, so I thought they might be there to see Laurent Rivard and Patrick Steeves - both Harvard players from Montreal - but it turned out that they had never heard of them, they were just Princeton graduate students there to cheer on their basketball team. Well didn't I feel like the fucking asshole.)
Even with a limited view, it was clear that Princeton wanted to use its physical advantage, especially through senior Ian Hummer. Current coach Mitch Henderson doesn't run as much Princeton offense as you would have seen a couple of decades ago, but Pete Carill was likely smiling at the number of open back-door cuts the Tigers found, racing to an eight-point lead by the first media time out and holding it throughout the first half.
But thanks in part to Rivard enticing fouls on two superhoop attempts and an impressive Siyani Chambers coast-to-coast layup to finish the half, Harvard was within 30-24 at the break. Again after the half, Princeton held Harvard at bay, but couldn't quite put them away, and you sensed there might be a run in the Crimson. Mack Darrow hit a superhoop at the exact midpoint of the second half to put the Tigers 46-36, what would be Princeton's largest lead of the evening.
Darrow turned out to have the only superhoop of the contest for either team. Jadwin Gym has some interesting sightlines for shooters with temporary stands and such, but that was a little ridiculous. Yet, somehow, despite being crushed on the boards (and getting only two offensive rebounds), and Rivard and Christian Webster going without a field goal, the Crimson crawled their way back into the game.
Stats be damned.
It wasn't the Canadians, but Cameroonian Steve Moundou-Missi, who scored 10 points in a six-minute span (six of them from the free throw line), and Princeton went eight minutes without a field goal (after the Darrow #superhoop). Suddenly, Harvard led 51-48, and the crowd which seemed content as the Tigers seemed to be coasting, tried to muster up some noise.
Yet even then when some people in my section started to stand up, they were peer pressured back into their seats.
In the end, Hummer - with his last shot at an Ivy title on the line - decided to take over, his putback ending that field goal streak. After Chambers put the Crimson back on top, Hummer's two free throws with 1:06 left gave Princeton a 54-53 lead it wouldn't relinquish.
Not that Harvard didn't have chances, Saunders and Moundou-Missi missing contested shots from short range before Princeton got the ball back. The Crimson got a top and had the ball down a single point. Tommy Amaker chose to let Chambers create on his own, and Chambers - just a freshman - led a teammate a little too far and the ball went harmlessly toward the Princeton band, and with it went any hope of an easy repeat as Ivy League champions.
After the final buzzer went off, Hummer - who finished with 23 points and 14 rebounds to move into second on the all-time Princeton scoring list (as the school pointed out, if he averages 250 points per game the rest of the way, he might be able to catch Bill Bradley) - found his father and they shared a big embrace, as the Tigers (after Harvard lost again Saturday at Penn) will win the league and the automatic bid if it can win its final three games, all on the road. From growing up with the Ivy League, I must admit I'm partial to the regular season champion getting the automatic bid, and I'm well aware it would make the early part of March a little less fun. But not as much as you might think, as this game is a perfect example of.
I've seen this in other places as well, and maybe you can help me. I've already talked about the reasons why Jadwin Gym might not give Princeton as big a home-court advantage as a smaller gym might, yet this was Harvard's 24th straight loss there. As in the last time Harvard won at Princeton was 1989. Only a handful of undergrads at either school were alive in 1989. Astounding. I give up.
The Princeton band lined up at center court to give its postgame concert to serenade the departing fans. With only one real exit to Jadwin and a huge crowd, a lot of people stayed to listen. Only the band was forced to stand silently because ESPN had to handle its postgame. So they waited. And waited. Ah, sportz. Don't ever change.
As we enter March, the urgency of the moment starts to rise in Our Game, especially for the seniors, who - for 99 percent of them at least - are playing their final competitive basketball games. Ian Hummer felt that pressure and thrived on it, others will not and will fall by the wayside one by one, until - like the samurai - they'll be no one left. It always does end in a loss eventually.
But guys like Hummer will surely promise you one thing: There will be no regrets.