With this weekend’s games finished, the Princeton men’s basketball team finds itself mathematically eliminated from a chance at the Ivy League title. They currently stand in third place, likely to finish in the same position they did last year behind their perennial rivals, Yale and Harvard.
The Tigers (13-14 overall, 6-5 Ivy League) were finishing the second half of a four-game road trip, the longest of their season. The task of defeating the league powerhouse Bulldogs (21-8, 10-2) on their home court certainly never looked easy. In particular, dealing with star players Justin Sears and Javier Duren had proven to be a challenge for the Tiger defense in the past.
The two players certainly would not disappoint. Sears had another monster game against the Tigers: he would dominate on both the offensive and defensive ends, putting up 28 points, 12 boards, three steals and two blocks. Duren, for his part, would add 19 points and four assists to the victory as the Bulldogs would go on to an 81-60 victory.
The score of this game, however, does not totally reflect the intensity with which the Tigers fought. Princeton ended the first half with a three-point lead. Even more impressive, they went on a 12-3 run after going down by as much as six. Sophomore guard Stephen Cook was impressive yet again, putting up seven points, three assists and two boards before halftime.
Moreover, Princeton jumped out of the gate early in the second half, pushing its lead to as much as eight points. The early run in the second half was a team effort, with five different players contributing points to help spark the strong start. The Bulldogs, however, would take over from there. An 8-0 run, stemming from hard drives and many free throw opportunities, got them back level with the Tigers. The Bulldogs’ commitment to getting attempts down low would pay dividends for the rest of the game, as they obtained a seven-point lead three minutes after coming back to tie the game.
While the Tigers were unable to make a comeback run, they kept this contest close for almost the full 20 minutes of the second half. The Bulldogs were not able to push the lead to larger amounts until the waning minutes of the game.
Along with Cook, Princeton saw solid performances from freshman guard Amir Bell and senior guard Clay Wilson, who all had efficient nights on the offensive end. It appears that the inability to convert free-throw opportunities doomed the Tigers: Princeton shot 12-26 at the line, while Yale converted 26 of 28.
Despite a disheartening loss, Princeton was able to find far more success in its trip to Providence the next evening. This high-powered Tiger offense would have many opportunities against the Bears (13-16, 4-8), which has had the worst defense in the Ivy League this season. Princeton attacked Brown early and never let up, going up by as many as 29 points in the game and eventually finishing with a score of 80-62. Again, Cook led the Tigers in his efficient shooting, putting up 15 points on 67 percent shooting, and also grabbing seven rebounds in the game. In addition to Cook's strong performance, sophomore wing Spencer Weisz stuffed the stat sheet for the Tigers, putting up 12 points, six boards and six assists on the day.
Moreover, the Tigers’ main weakness in their last game turned into their best asset when downing the Bears. One day after putting up a woeful free-throw percentage, Princeton shot excellently from the line, going 18-23 on the game. The Bears, on the other hand, would not fare nearly as well, going 10-21 on the day.
While the Tigers may have to wait another year for a shot at an NCAA berth, their season may not end when they finish their last three Ivy League games. As with last season, the Tigers can be chosen for the College Basketball Invitational tournament taking place in mid-March. Before thoughts of the postseason, the Tigers must finish the regular season against Columbia, Cornell and Penn.Holding a 2 — 1 record in their three games against these teams, it would appear that the TIgers have a good chance of finishing the regular season out strong. However, in the deceptively competitive Ivy League, wins can certainly be hard to come by.