If you looked closely at Lee Amphitheater Saturday night, you could see into the future. And you didn’t even need a Delorean to do it.
Harvard ended Yale’s 22-game, two-year long home winning streak in impressive fashion, 75-67, before a sellout crowd that was into the game from the opening tip. The Crimson (14-7, 6-2, identical to Yale) were led by freshman Bryce Aiken with a career-high 27 points. Like most freshmen, Aiken has had some growing pains this season, but Saturday his full array of talent that ACC and Big East schools wanted was on display: shooting, getting to the rim, putting opponents on skates (as the kids say these days), even a four-point play from the corner that was huge in the Harvard victory.
Aiken, of course, is just one piece of a freshman class that includes Chris Lewis, Justin Bassey, and Seth Towns (who all started Saturday while Aiken did not). Sophomore Corey Johnson added 12 points for Harvard as well.
Yale’s freshmen weren’t nearly as effective, but you saw glimpses of what Miye Oni and Jordan Bruner may become, with Oni’s shooting ability and athleticism and Bruner’s presence in the paint on defense. Sophomore Alex Copeland led the Bulldogs with 20 points, while Trey Phills and Blake Reynolds should also be around for two more years of Ivy League basketball (and Makai Mason will return for one next season as well).
“I thought both teams did a lot of incredible things, which made this an exciting night of Ivy League basketball,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “I think our league is tremendous. When you start looking top to bottom, the kinds of games that are played, you see more and more of these kinds of games. I’m proud of our kids. This is the first time this season, we’ve had a weekend sweep and to do it on the road and against a team like that is special. Yale is good.”
Yes, senior Siyani Chambers was massive, scoring 16 points, adding six assists and just one turnover, while on the home side, Sam Downey had a double-double by halftime and finished with 15 points and 14 rebounds. They will be key to what happens in the next month as both schools try to knock off favored Princeton in the inaugural Ivy League Tournament.
But look down the road if you will to 2017-18 and 2018-19 (and beyond) to see the next phase of the new world order that is Ivy League basketball. We don’t want to put undue pressure on young players, however this Harvard team could potentially improve on the No. 12 seed it received on twice in its four straight NCAA berths.
“We’re probably going to be a team that has to rely on our perimeter scoring,” Amaker said. “When we have good balance, we’ve been a pretty good team and our bench came through for us again, which you have to have in the second nights of back-to-backs in this league. These two guys (Aiken and Chambers) are certainly fun to watch and they can lead us.”
Unless Yale finds a way to stop them, which you would certainly give them a fighting chance to do next season with Mason and most of the team returning. You may remember that Yale’s NCAA win was the Ivy’s third (Harvard has the other two) in five years. Princeton may also have the power to stop it, and even young Penn and Columbia won’t be that way for long.
“We had a team back in 2002 that had two freshman guards that were pretty important to us on that championship team,” Yale coach James Jones said. “There was Ibby Jaaber at Penn, but it’s very rare to have freshmen come into the league and have an impact like these freshmen are. And not just on these two teams.”
Harvard and Yale have a good chance to meet each other twice more this season, and – not that the rivalry needed much of a boost – but who knows how many seasons they’ll be seeing each other three times going forward? How much fun is that going to be to watch? Might want to stock up on popcorn soon.
What else did we learn in New Haven Saturday night?:
- Crimson starting to bring it together
Tommy Amaker still went 12 deep in the first half, and getting minutes for the plethora of good young players he has was always going to be difficult. But he pretty much rode Aiken and Chambers in the second half, with an occasional appearance by Corey Johnson. As with Yale, Amaker has the luxury of relying on whomever the hot hand is, which was not Seth Towns (7 pts., 2-10 FG) Saturday.
“We wear our emotions on our sleeves and play with a lot of intensity,” Chambers said. “Coach (Amaker) lets us go with that as long as it’s the right thing to do, and we’re handling it the right way. That’s just how we interact, and it makes us better.”
Aiken was just immense, with his four-point play coming after Yale has grabbed a 53-51 advantage with 9:05 remaining. It would be their last lead. The Crimson took 30 three-pointers, which surprised even Amaker, but they have the shooters to be much better than the 143rd (35.1%) they are from behind the arc, although they were “only” at 40% Saturday (12-30).
“We recruited him to be exactly what he’s doing for our team, to have an impact,” Amaker said. “He’s capable of these kinds of nights. There will be growth moments and times where not everything is going to flow, but then he’ll be able to do other things. That’s the next step for him. But we’ve known he’s capable of this since we tried to get him to come to Harvard.”
— Harvard Basketball (@HarvardBBall) February 12, 2017
2) Little comeuppance for Yale
James Jones correctly pointed out that until the four-point play, Alex Copeland was virtually matching Aiken bucket for bucket, and those are going to be fascinating matchups to watch the next few years.
But the Bulldogs showed plenty of inexperience down the stretch. As Johnson and Chambers were hitting massive shots, Yale had a couple of panicked possessions that resulted in poor looks as Harvard quickly got away from them. Then, after Yale got it back to four with 47 seconds left, they didn’t foul, allowing Harvard to run the clock all the way down to 23 seconds, when the Bulldogs then fouled with 6 on the shot clock (and fouling Aiken, a 90% free throw shooter).
— Harvard Basketball (@HarvardBBall) February 12, 2017
“We made half our shots in the second half, but we turned it over eight times, and we didn’t do a good job containing them on the ballscreens, which led to a lot of open looks from the perimeter that they were able to knock down,” Jones said.
It’s a lesson learned, though, going forward, as the Crimson were able to finish at 1.20 points per possession in the second half, thanks in part due to a 12-13 performance at the free throw line. Harvard, yes Harvard, is currently 16th nationally in free throw shooting at 76.7%.
3) Thanks for the tournament
In past years, this would have been a crippling blow to Yale and a huge boost to Princeton, who would be two games clear with six to play for the automatic NCAA bid. As it stands now, it’s probably going to be Harvard-Yale in the No. 2 against No. 3 seed game in one fashion or another in Philadelphia.
So, even though the home winning streak is over, it’s a little easier for Yale to take.
Losing to Harvard still sucks, though.
“I just wanted to beat Harvard,” Downey said.