PRINCETON, N.J. — The streak had stretched so many years that it was starting to become its own legend.
“I didn’t know the number,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said. “I have heard different numbers, I’ve heard 30. I didn’t know what it was.”
All he knew for sure was that it was a lot. “It seemed like it had been 100,” Amaker said.
Most everyone in Harvard’s locker room knew the number — 24 straight losses at Princeton’s Jadwin Gymnasium. The last win came in 1989.
“Everybody knows about it,” Crimson guard Brandon Curry said. “We go around campus before the game [like], ‘We are finally going to break this drought at Jadwin.’ ”
Recent single-digit losses to Princeton added to the campfire story. The more the Crimson thought about the streak, the more massive it seemed. So they stopped.
“We talked to our kids about not focusing on that,” Amaker said. “That’s a mistake we’ve made, coming in here — talking about that.”
Amaker told his team, simply, “We haven’t played well here. Let’s see if we can put together a game where we feel like we’ve played well and we can live with what the scoreboard says.”
When the time drained from the clock, the scoreboard showed a 59-47 Harvard win, and as players jumped from the Crimson bench howling in celebration it was obvious that they had laid 24 years worth of ghosts to rest. For the first time since 1985, they swept a Penn-Princeton road trip. And Harvard swept the season series from those two teams for the first time in program history.
“We are pleased for a lot of Harvard former players and coaches and Harvard community because I have known about this streak for a number of years and participated in it,” Amaker said.
As much as they tried to bottle them up, Curry admitted that emotions were all over the place coming into the game.
After committing just eight turnovers the night before against Penn, the Crimson (22-4, 9-1 Ivy League) gave it away eight times in the first 12 minutes against Princeton (15-8, 3-6). At the same time, they slogged through a 4-for-12 start from the field.
They fell into a 21-9 hole after Siyani Chambers threw the ball away to Tigers forward Pete Miller, then fouled him at the other end to prevent a layup. Miller split a pair of free throws.
“When we came out we were a little nervous,” Curry said. “People were antsy because this is a big game for us. A couple of the shots we first shot were long because we were shooting like darts. We just calmed down.”
Once the Crimson got a handle on the basketball, they also got a handle on the game.
Over the last 3:17 of the first half, the Crimson played turnover-free and went on an 8-2 burst. They came out of the half with a 6-1 burst that tied it at 30, when Chambers pushed the ball up the floor, drove hard at T.J. Bray, and used a jump-stop to make enough room to kiss a layup off the glass.
They took control for good when Chambers converted another tough finish at the rim for a 39-37 lead, and Curry followed by sneaking up a reverse layup from nearly behind the backboard.
“In a lot of ways I challenged our guys and I am thrilled they responded the way they did,” Amaker said. “I am not surprised. There is a lot of pride on this team in our locker room.”
Curry, who grew up an hour away in Matawan, N.J., put up a team-high 17 points with dozens of family members in Harvard’s rooting section. During the week, the senior guard thought about winning at Jadwin as much as anyone. He took one opportunity to talk to the team about it, then left it at that.
“This is our last go-around and the seniors before us did the same thing,” Curry said. “You realize how much it means to you when you are there. All the freshmen and sophomores, they have a lot more times to play all these teams. We said in practice our piece about how much it means for us.
“We wanted everyone just to give their all at the end of the day. If we go out there and play our hardest, we will look up at the end and what happens, happens.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.