With the conclusion of this weekend, the Tigers have now earned five straight wins. These last two, however, might just be the sweetest of them all.
Jockeying for top position in a competitive Ivy League conference, the Tigers (17-5, 8-1 Ivy) heavily bolstered their chances at earning the top spot in the Ivy League. In the first half of their four-game-homestand, they won back-to-back games against the Yale Bulldogs (18-6, 9-1) and the Brown Bears (7-17, 2-8).
Airing on ESPN3, the duel against Yale had become one of the most anticipated battles in the Ivy League. After getting barely edged out by the Bulldogs earlier this season in New Haven, the Tigers knew that this contest would be critical in keeping their goal of making the NCAA tournament alive. A loss meant that Yale would have the tiebreak if they and the Tigers finished with equal records. And indeed, with the level of play the Bulldogs have exhibited, matching Yale’s record would be a tough task in itself.
With a roaring crowd of Princeton faithful behind them (including New Jersey governor Chris Christie in the stands), the Tigers responded to the urgency of their situation. A 26-10 run in the middle of the first half, sparked by hot downtown shooting, left the Tigers with a 10 point lead going into the second half.
With the crowd energized, the Tigers continued to press down on the Bulldogs. They responded to an early 6-0 run by the Bulldogs (sparked from 3 straight buckets by Yale’s Brandon Sherrerd) with an 11-4 run of their own. As with the first half, their success on the offensive end came from a wide array of players. Freshman forward Devin Cannady and junior guard Spencer Weisz continued to keep it going with their hot jumpers, as junior forward Henry Caruso was earning his points down in the post.
Indeed, the Tigers’ offense withstood a multitude of similar mini-runs by Yale via both hot shooting and a commitment to getting to the line. The shooting from downtown was particularly telling: Princeton would go 8-20 from beyond the arc, Yale just 1-12. 46.3% shooting from the field for Princeton, and 81% from the stripe, were further indicators of an offense operating on all cylinders.
The Yale game brought the Tigers within one victory of sharing first place in the league standings. Coming in against the Brown Bears, they had every reason to feel confident – in Providence, they had handily taken down the Bears 83 – 59. This contest proved no different, as the Tigers jumped out to an early lead on the Bears, never giving them a chance to get the edge. Again, it was hot three-point-shooting by the Tigers that turned this one into a rout early on.
Moreover, their offense was not the only thing carrying them that day – the Tigers put heavy pressure on the Bears at all times, swarming the ball handlers and forcing Brown to make costly errors. After converting on many of such opportunities, the Tigers found themselves sitting comfortably on a 42-27 lead going into the second half.
The lead would balloon from there. The Tigers would continue to find the range from behind the arc, with the lead growing as high as 25 points. While Brown would make a late run in the last three minutes to cut the deficit, they would ultimately fall short as the Tigers prevailed, 77-66, to complete the weekend sweep.
This weekend was perhaps the most important of the Tigers’ season so far, and they rose to the challenge. Still half a game behind Yale in the standings, they look to maintain the intensity as they take on the Columbia Lions (18-8, 7-2) and the Cornell Big Red (9-14, 2-7). Just last weekend, the Tigers defeated the Lions in an overtime thriller, and their upcoming matchup will go a long way towards determining who represents the Ivy League in the Big Dance come March.