A 126 day long season will come down to what could be one final game this Saturday as the Red takes on Harvard in the semifinals of the Ivy League basketball tournament.
The Red is two wins away from earning its first NCAA tournament berth since its historic 2010 season in which it advanced to the Sweet Sixteen — but, as the No. 4 seed, the team isn’t the favorite to punch its ticket to the Big Dance.
The Crimson, who swept the season series between the teams, is the first to stand in the way.
Harvard won the first matchup thanks to a second-half comeback and emerged victorious in last weekend’s contest in double overtime.
But none of that matters now, as the winner moves on for a chance at the NCAA tournament and the loser heads home.
“Regardless of what happened this season, we made it in and it’s like a new season,” said junior forward Stone Gettings.
After qualifying for the Ivy Tournament last weekend with a win over Dartmouth, two Columbia losses and a Princeton loss, the team is confident in its chances against the top-seeded Crimson and is anxious for redemption.
“I think everyone is happy that we made it. It’s been a goal of ours to get to the tournament,” said second year head coach Brian Earl. “We’re putting that behind us now and now we’re getting back to work with a team that we think can go up pretty well against.”
“This is what we’ve been working for all year,” Gettings said. “We knew we just had to make it into the top four.”
With its first goal of the season achieved, the Red will shift its mindset to finishing strong, something the team has struggled with, especially against this Harvard team.
“We’ve been there twice, right on the cusp,” Earl said. “[We] held the lead for most of our first game here and took them to overtime there.”
The Red led Harvard for 14 consecutive minutes in the second half of the first matchup, but lost the lead with 3:09 left in the second half and eventually lost, 76-73, after a late defensive breakdown.
“Whether it’s ball screen coverage, switching, all that, it’s going to take 40 minutes of what we’ve done before for 37 minutes,” said junior forward Matt Morgan, a unanimous first-team All-Ivy selection. “We’re going to need to do it for 40 minutes, a full game, to get this win.”
Featuring the sophomore duo of Ivy League Player of the Year Seth Towns and first team All-Ivy big man Chris Lewis, the Crimson’s isolation offense is tough to slow down.
“They’ve got a lot of talent and a big guy in the middle who’s a load and so [we will] battle as much as we can one-on-one,” Earl said. “We’re going to try and [force turnovers], try and slow them down a little bit, make sure we’re doing our best to stay in front of our man and then clean up the rebounds.”
Offensively, the showdown will be a battle of star duos. Morgan and Gettings have had success against Harvard, averaging 25 and 27.5 points per game, respectively, in the two contests.
For the Red to earn two wins and head to March Madness, its offensive stars will need to shine again, especially if the contest is determined by who can make shots in crunch time.
“[The game plan] is going to be getting my teammates going early,” Morgan said. “The more that they are aggressive throughout the game, it starts to open up driving lanes and shots for me. Being able to get [my teammates] shots and in a rhythm early should help not only myself, but [also] them, late in the game.”
With a chance to advance to Sunday’s Ivy League championship game against the winner between Yale and Penn, the Red takes on Harvard at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at the famed Palestra in Philadelphia. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU.