Pictured: Jeremy Lin nearly led Harvard back from a 14-point second half deficit Friday night. (Gil Talbot)
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - Visiting Princeton University escaped a torrid comeback attempt by the Harvard men's basketball team Friday night at a raucous Lavietes Pavilion when Jeremy Lin's long 3-point attempt fell just short as time expired, 56-53.
An overflow crowd witnessed a near-epic comeback by a depleted Harvard that dressed just two healthy frontcourt players against a solid Princeton team. Princeton improves to 12-5 on the season and keeps pace with Cornell atop the Ivy League at 3-0. The Tigers also ended Harvard's program-record 10-game home winning streak as the Crimson sees its record dip to 14-5 overall and 3-2 in the league. It marked the first time this season that Harvard has dropped consecutive games.
Princeton enjoyed a comfortable lead most of the night after turning a 16-12 deficit into a 29-17 lead as Harvard misfired from all spots on the floor. It took a last second triple from Lin to make it a 29-20 deficit at intermission as the Crimson shot just 26 percent in the first half with a 3-for-15 mark from long range.
It got no better for Harvard in the second as the Crimson failed to score a field goal for the first seven minutes. Princeton eventually gained a 42-28 lead after a Dan Mavraides 3-pointer and again led by 14 after another Mavraides triple with 4:55 left to make it 47-33.
In its darkest moment of the night Harvard was buoyed by its home crowd, which began a loud, rhythmic chant of "I believe that we will win!" Kyle Casey followed a missed shot with a monster putback dunk and the comeback was on as Harvard scored 20 points in the final minutes of the game.
A 3-pointer from Casey got the Crimson within two, 51-49, with 41 seconds left but Princeton continually made free throws to claim a 54-49 lead with 24 ticks remaining. Harvard was not done yet as Christian Webster nailed a triple from the corner and an ensuing free throw after getting plowed on the shot. His freebie made the score 54-53 with 11 seconds left.
Kareem Maddox, who lifted Princeton all night, made two free throws at the other end, setting up the finish. With Harvard unable to get a clean look, Lin used an upfake against a much bigger Maddox and elevated from deep atop the circle only to have his shot clang just shy.
Maddox scored 14 points (5-10 FG) with eight rebounds and three blocks off the bench while Mavraides also had 14 points for Princeton.
Lin was electric in the second half despite being hit to the ground on numerous occasions. He finished with 19 points, four assists, four steals, three blocks and three rebounds. Oliver McNally has 12 points (3-5 3-PT) before fouling out.
Harvard was 11-for-23 from the floor in the second half and 5-for-9 form deep with much of the damage coming late in its comeback bid.
Harvard returns to Lavietes on Saturday night in a game against Penn that has been sold out for days.