Their itinerary was in a holding pattern. Bus trip Friday evening to New Haven for a playoff game to decide the Ivy League title? Or plane trip to another destination after the NCAA Tournament pairings are announced Sunday evening?
Either way, coach Tommy Amaker’s Harvard team was ready for its next challenge as Penn and Princeton finished their regular season at Princeton’s Jadwin Gym Tuesday night.
For Princeton (which beat Harvard in a playoff for the Ivy title last year), nothing was at stake other than pride.
But for Penn, it was all on the line. Win, and the Quakers would meet Harvard Saturday afternoon to play for the NCAA berth guaranteed the Ivy League champion. Lose, and they probably would be done for the season.
When the final buzzer sounded in New Jersey, Harvard’s immediate future was secure. Princeton’s 62-52 victory put the Crimson in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1946.
“It’s as tremendous a feeling as you can imagine,’’ said Amaker. “It just gives you a great sense of pride for not only our team but for so many teams before us.
“To have back-to-back Ivy League titles and have this happen tonight just gives me a great sense of satisfaction.’’
Amaker watched most of the game at home while his players watched at various spots on campus.
For the Crimson, who finished the regular season 26-4 overall and 12-2 in the Ivy League, it is another milestone in a season filled with them.
Amaker can point to the unexpected win in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas in November (in which the Crimson knocked off Utah, Florida State, and Central Florida) to an 8-0 start in Ivy League play, to the final surge in which they recovered from an unexpected home loss (their first in two years) to Penn with a tough sweep on the road at Columbia and Cornell.
Amaker, who came to Harvard six years ago with a plan few expected he could execute, said his team will take a few days to refocus on the next goal, then begin preparations for the next challenge - the specifics of which will be divulged on Selection Sunday.
“We had a vision about this school when we came here that this could be a special opportunity,’’ said Amaker. “Harvard has so much greatness all over. We still have a long road ahead of us.’’
A year after the frustration of a last-second loss in a playoff game, Harvard will journey down a different road - one it hasn’t traveled in 66 years.