Piling up a lead as large as 17 in the first half against title-seeking Penn, the Princeton men's basketball team denied the Quakers 62-52 Tuesday night in Jadwin Gym.
With the result, Harvard wins the outright Ivy League title - its first outright title in program history - and gets the Ivy League's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament for the first time. Harvard's last and only trip to the tournament was in 1946.
Penn's loss keeps Princeton in the lead in the Ivy League in conference titles at 26 and NCAA Tournament appearances at 24. It also keeps Princeton's home Ivy League winning streak alive at 17 games, the program's longest since 26 from 1996-99.
Had Princeton lost, Penn would have faced Harvard in a one-game playoff to decide the automatic bid. Both would have been Ivy champions. Instead, Princeton can still say it has been involved in every such playoff, all eight of them, including last year's thriller against the Crimson.
The Tigers finish the regular season at 19-11 overall and 10-4 in the Ivy League, having won eight of its last nine games. Penn finishes at 19-12 and 11-3. Princeton will find out Sunday if it will be included in a postseason tournament.
Princeton started the Ivy League season at 2-3 after losses at Cornell, Penn and Yale. Even so, Princeton would have been playing for a share of the Ivy title tonight had it won at Harvard on Feb. 24. A multi-team playoff could have resulted, but with the automatic NCAA bid going to the regular-season champ in the Ivy, this was the end for Princeton.
"We had our chances. It's heartbreaking because look at what we're doing right now," Mitch Henderson, the Franklin C. Cappon-Edward G. Green '40 head coach of Princeton men's basketball, said. "It'd be fun to keep playing, but we know the drill and we're hopeful to keep playing."
Senior Douglas Davis addressed being in the odd position of beating an old rival while helping a new one.
"I didn't feel right letting Penn share the Ivy League title and win it on our home floor," Davis said. "Our rivalry with Penn goes way back. Harvard, they're good, but our rivalry is with Penn. Harvard, they won the Ivy League, but Penn wasn't going to win it on our court."
Penn now leads Princeton in the all-time series 123-103, one of the few series on the East Coast in which two teams have won at least 100 games against each other.
"When Penn is good, it's good for us," Henderson said. "It's good for all of us. Beating your travel partner, rival, it has always meant a lot to me and I think it means a lot to these guys too."
Against the Quakers, Princeton used a hot-shooting first half to build a lead as large as 23-6 with less than five minutes to go before halftime. The Tigers ended up hitting 64.7 percent of their shots in the opening 20 minutes, though the Quakers rallied to make it a 10-point game at half.
That rally was key for Penn, which continued to chip away as the second half wore on. Princeton's lead dwindled to as little as three at 34-31 with 12:23 to go, but the Tigers went on a 7-0 run to make it double digits once again. After being up 41-31, Princeton let Penn no closer than six points.
Ian Hummer led Princeton with 18 points to leap three spots on the all-time scoring list to 13th at 1,138 with one year left in his college career. Hummer may start his senior season in 13th even if Princeton gets a postseason bid, as no one is in front of him until 1,207 career points.
Meanwhile, Davis, one of three seniors to play his final regular-season game at Jadwin Gym Tuesday night along with Patrick Saunders and John Comfort, will need postseason to become the third Tiger in program history to score 1,500 points. After a 12-point night, he stands at 1,499 for his career with only Kit Mueller '91 (1,546) and Bill Bradley '65 (2,503) in front of him.
Hummer also finished with 10 rebounds to earn his fifth double-double of the season, matching his total from a year ago.
With the win, Princeton avenged the Jan. 30 defeat the Tigers suffered at The Palestra, 82-67. It was Princeton's first game off of the two-week exam break, while Penn had been off for only one week after its big win over city rival Saint Joseph's.
In that game, Penn senior Zack Rosen scored 28 points. This time, he finished with 19 to lead all scorers, but it wasn't enough.
"We had the same game plan," Henderson said of the two games against Penn. "Tonight, it just seemed to work."
Princeton will wait and see if it is selected to one of the four postseason tournaments Sunday evening. The NIT selection show will be on ESPNU at 9 p.m. Eastern Time Sunday, after which the College Basketball Invitational and the CollegeInsider.com Tournament will unveil their selections online.