As Princeton men's basketball coach Sydney Johnson reminded all who listened leading up to Friday night's game against fellow Ivy-unbeaten Harvard at Jadwin Gym, it's just one game.
It's still just one game, but it's one the Tigers are happy to have in their column, taking control in the second half to hand Harvard its first loss in nine games, 65-61.
"It's only game three for us," Johnson said, with his team still looking at 11 league games on its slate. "It's nice to hold home court, but we realize there are some big challenges coming up."
The victory required a comeback, as Harvard burst out of the gates to leads of 15-4 and 17-7 before the game was eight minutes old. Princeton (15-4, 3-0 Ivy) went on a quick 8-2 run after the 17-7 Harvard lead, and the difference was no more than six points the rest of the half.
In a key turn that gave Princeton momentum going into the halftime break, Douglas Davis raced down the court as the half's final seconds ticked away and was fouled by Harvard rookie Laurent Rivard while taking a 3-pointer.
Davis sank all three shots, and what would have been a four-point deficit turned into one at 30-29.
Though Princeton's play on the offensive end only began to awaken later in the first half, Johnson applauded the Tigers' effort at the other end of the court.
"I thought at times in the first half, we were very, very good defensively, but there were some things that needed to get tightened up," Johnson, the Franklin C. Cappon-Edward G. Green '40 head coach of men's basketball, said. "The guys just came out (in the second half) and really just dug in."
The break did nothing to cool Princeton's momentum. Instead, the Tigers went on a 14-2 run to start the half, with four players contributing points. Mack Darrow's 3-pointer made the lead 11 at 43-32, one of two he made on the night on as many tries. His first cut a seven-point Harvard lead to four near the midway point of the first half and was either team's last basket for a span of nearly four minutes.
"To come out and get a 10-point lead, or whatever we went up by, was just huge," senior tri-captain Dan Mavraides said. "The rest of the game, they're playing catch-up, and we're playing more confident and a little more composed."
Harvard (15-4, 4-1 Ivy) kept the game from getting away after that point, eventually whittling the deficit to two points with 18 seconds to go on a Rivard 3-pointer.
From there, Mavraides and Ian Hummer each sank a pair of free throws to seal the game and keep Princeton's unbeaten Ivy record for at least another night.
Harvard outshot Princeton 43.8% to 39.6% and outrebounded the Tigers 36-29 behind 11 rebounds from Keith Wright, who had 16 points to lead his team. Princeton won the turnover battle, however, 15-8, as only four Tigers had even one giveaway and none had more than three.
Princeton's shooting percentage ended a season-long run of hitting at least 40% in every game, but the Tigers will take the victory.
Something not on the stat sheet that the Tigers had in their corner was a packed student section, with orange-shirted Princeton students standing shoulder-to-shoulder for the entire contest.
Such scenes have been more common in Jadwin Gym over the past couple seasons and came with regularity during Johnson's tenure as a player in the mid-1990s.
"Since I've been here, that's all I've ever wanted for these guys, is to have the type of experience I had," Johnson said. "And we're getting close."
Mavraides, who has seen the team develop from a struggling freshman campaign to pursuing an Ivy League crown this season and last, also appreciated the turnout.
"It means the world to us," Mavraides said. "The fans were phenomenal tonight."
Hummer scored 17 points as one of three Princeton players in double figures, while Mavraides added 15 with seven rebounds and a career-high six assists. Kareem Maddox had a career-high five blocks and scored 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting to keep his .589 field goal percentage atop the Ivy standings. To enter the NCAA rankings during the week, Maddox will need to make seven baskets against Dartmouth Saturday night.
Mavraides crossed the 900-point mark to stand at 902 for his career, while Davis crept closer to 1,000 with eight points to stand at 978.
The game began Princeton's annual stretch of five games in nine days, as the Tigers will welcome the Big Green for a 6 p.m. tip Saturday. Harvard will head to Penn Saturday night, and the rivals from Princeton and Philadelphia will tangle in Jadwin Gym Tuesday night.
The victory, coupled with Penn's lopsided win over Dartmouth, made Princeton and Penn the only two unbeaten teams in Ivy play and kept the Ivy as the only league in the country with two teams unbeaten in conference play.