When Noah Savage ’08 was a freshman, he started every game in the men’s basketball team’s nonleague schedule, helping the Tigers beat Rutgers at home, win a double-overtime game at Davidson, and hang tough against Duke in a loss at Cameron Indoor Stadium. So when Princeton opened its Ivy League slate against Brown that season, he figured he was more than ready. “I remember Scott Greenman [’06] saying, ‘You have no idea how hard the league is,’” Savage said. “I believed him, but until you go through it, you don’t know.”
With Ivy games on back-to-back nights each weekend, teams have little time to regroup — confidence can surge after a big Friday-night win or quickly vanish with a loss. Princeton saw both sides of the coin in February, sweeping Dartmouth and Harvard Feb. 1 and 2 before losing on the road at Cornell and Columbia Feb. 8 and 9. The Tigers also lost a Tuesday-night game at Penn Feb. 12.
In the first Ivy weekend, the Tigers relied on solid defense and timely shooting, holding on to a slim lead down the stretch to top Dartmouth, 57–53, and exploding in the second half to comfortably handle Harvard, 68–54. It was a welcome change for a team that had lost 12 consecutive games in November, December, and early January.
Against Cornell, the Ivy frontrunner, Princeton continued its strong play, chipping away at the Big Red’s early lead and closing to within a basket midway through the second half. But Cornell replied with an 8-0 run and held on to win, 72–61.
The following night at Columbia, the Tigers led for much of the second half before cold shooting and turnovers allowed the Lions to jump ahead. Columbia won, 58–53. “They made some big hustle plays and did some nice things at important times,” Lincoln Gunn ’10 said afterward. “It’s frustrating. We didn’t make the same kind of plays late in the game.”
Losing to Penn might have been even more frustrating. In the final 30 seconds, the Tigers had two opportunities to take the lead or tie the game. On the first, trailing by one, Savage missed an open 3-pointer. Seconds later, down three, Princeton never had a chance to pass the ball inbounds. Officials called a technical foul on Savage as he pushed for postion with a Penn player at midcourt, giving the Quakers two shots, possession, and an eventual 70–65 win.