By Mel Greenberg
Princeton shook of the ending of the Tigers Ivy-record 33-game win streak that occurred Friday night at the hands of Harvard in Cambridge, Mass., and finished its New England road trip Saturday night by beating host Dartmouth, 68-60, in Hanover, N.H., to shift into countdown mode for a fourth straight league title and automatic berth in the NCAA tournament.
The magic number is two to extinguish the pursuit of Penn and Harvard now tied for second and the Tigers (19-6, 10-1 Ivy) can get the job this weekend either with a sweep of Yale on Friday night at 7 p.m. at Jadwin Gym and Brown on Saturday at 6 p.m. or earlier if both the Quakers and Crimson were to lose on Friday.
Penn’s postseason hopes, meanwhile, darkened considerably because a 67-54 loss at revenge-minded Harvard dropped the Quakers (15-10, 8-3) into a tie with the Crimson (17-8, 8-3).
The problem for Penn is coach Mike McLaughlin’s group is they absolutely must sweep Brown on Friday (7 p.m.) and Yale on Saturday (7 p.m.) at The Palestra and need help from Columbia and Cornell because the Quakers are facing at least one more projected loss when Princeton comes to town a week from Tuesday at 5 p.m.
Barring any Harvard loss, that setback would outright drop Penn into third-place outright, still an improvement in the program’s reconstruction. And if the Quakers were to finish dead-even, then as a result of Friday’s revenge, part one, Harvard’s win over Princeton gives the Crimson the upper hand in a tiebreak.
The best team in each conference that doesn’t land in the NCAA field gets an automatic bid to the WNIT but while other Ivy teams could be taken, Penn’s computer numbers are not exactly overwhelming to attract that committee.
Still, Penn has made forward progress in year four of the McLaughlin era with more to come.
In the Harvard game the Crimson built a 20-point advantage before Penn sliced the deficit to six late in the second half when the Quakers ran out of steam.
Keiera Ray had a team-high 14 points for Penn and a career-high six steals, the most for a Quaker in two seasons.
Alyssa Baron scored 13 points and Kara Bonenberger scored 10 while Brianna Bradford had 10 as Penn’s best winning streak of six games were stopped after reaching an eight-year high.
Two weeks ago Penn snapped a 17-game win streak by Harvard in the series before the Crimson snapped the Quakers’ eight-year high of six straight on Saturday night.
Harvard’s Christine Clark had 18 points and English Olympian Temi Fagbenle scored 14 points.
Princeton, meanwhile, had duo high thrusters on offense on a night that was coach Courtney Banghart’s annual homecoming visit to Dartmouth. Seniors Megan Bowen and Niveen Rasheed, the reigning two-time Ivy player of the year, each scored 21 points while Rasheed also grabbed 10 rebounds.
Kristen Helmstetter added 10 points for the Tigers against the Big Green (6-19, 4-7) in the game at Leede Arena.
Dartmouth’s Lakin Roland had 20 points and 12 rebounds.