Harvard 73, Cornell 60

Crimson handle business trip

Still a lot of work to be done in the Ivy

By Mark Blaudschun
Globe Staff / February 19, 2011

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ITHACA, N.Y. — Over the next two weeks they will play a series of games-within-games. The first priority for both Princeton and Harvard is, of course, to win. But the Tigers and Crimson will also do some scoreboard watching.

Princeton entered its game last night at Yale with a one-game lead over Harvard in the Ivy League, courtesy of a 4-point home win over the Crimson Feb. 4. Harvard opened its New York swing, facing Cornell at Newman Arena.

When both games were over, the gap hadn’t changed. Coach Tommy Amaker’s Crimson rolled over Cornell, 73-60, while Princeton struggled to a 58-51 victory.

Amaker, in his fourth season at Harvard, has built the program steadily. At 19-4, the Crimson are tied for second-most wins in school history. They are 8-1 in the Ivy, their best start in conference history as they search for their first NCAA Tournament bid since 1946.

What Amaker doesn’t want is any surprises as the Crimson build toward the rematch with Princeton at Lavietes Pavilion March 5, the final game of the regular season. If Harvard wins that one and the teams finish with the best record in the league, they will meet in a one-game playoff at a neutral site.

There weren’t any surprises for Harvard last night as the Crimson built a 37-24 halftime lead and coasted past a Cornell team that lost eight seniors from last year’s Sweet 16 team as well as coach Steve Donahue, now at Boston College.

Though Cornell (6-17, 2-7) was coming off a 2-point loss to Princeton last Saturday, it showed no magic against a Harvard team that received a scare from Brown last weekend. A concern for Amaker was the status of starting guard Oliver McNally, who suffered a sprained ankle against Brown. McNally started against Cornell but was a nonfactor, scoring only 4 points, all from the foul line.

Amaker worked on the Crimson’s psyche for most of the week, getting them to focus on the task at hand and not look ahead. In the first 20 minutes last night, guard Brandyn Curry scored 11 of his 18 points and the Crimson controlled the tempo.

In the second half, Christian Webster (game-high 20 points, five rebounds) picked up the offense as Harvard extended its lead to 21.

“We talk a lot about having balance,’’ said Amaker. “That’s been the calling card of our team. But we’re still growing. I don’t know many teams at this time of the year that are still talking about growing.’’

Amaker understands that his players know the significance of the standings and what the schedule says. “We check the [Princeton] scores,’’ said Amaker. “I tell them if we do what we need to do, no matter what they do, we’ll still have the opportunity.’’

Curry, a 6-foot-1-inch sophomore, is normally the Crimson’s defensive anchor. Last night he played a bigger role on offense.

“I will do whatever I need to do for us to win,’’ he said. “Coach preaches that to us all the time. Do what you can do for our team to win.’’

The postseason push continues tonight as Harvard visits Columbia and Princeton meets Brown in Providence.