Men’s basketball falls to Virginia Tech in first round of National Invitation Tournament| Mar 17, 2016
Despite high confidence and hopes, Princeton men’s basketball (22-7 overall) fell to Virginia Tech (20-14) in overtime by a score of 81-86. The loss eliminates the Tigers from the annual National Invitation Tournament, officially commencing the off-season.
Though the Tigers lost the automatic NCAA tournament bid to Yale, they were fortunate enough to earn an invitation to the NIT, an annual NCAA competition for top teams excluded from the organization’s main tournament. According to junior forward Spencer Weisz, he and the rest of the team considered the invitation“a great opportunity for us to keep playing and build on our already successful season.”
Though the Tigers were only the sixth of eight seeds, the team had high ambitions heading into the tournament. Weisz explained, “Going in, our goal was to win it all. We are a really confident team, and we believe in our abilities. We had the utmost intentions of going to Madison Square Garden [for the championship game].”
For the first round, the Tigers were matched against the No. 3 Virginia Tech University Hokies. Uncertainty surrounded both teams, as the two had never before met. Though film sessions, the Tigers were able to study the Hokies’ tendencies. In just a few days of preparation, Weisz said that by Wednesday, “[Princeton] had a good idea of who [the Hokies] were as a team.”
Traveling down to Blacksburg, Va., the Tigers wasted little time to prove themselves. In just over two minutes, Princeton began the game on a 9-0 run. However, it would be another eight minutes before the Tigers scored again. In the meantime, the Hokies returned to take a 17-14 lead. The remainder of the first half ricocheted between the Tigers and Hokies, with the latter accumulating a 28-17 lead. An ensuing Orange and Black timeout converted into a 6-0 run that kept the Tigers in the game.
For the majority of the second half, the Hokies maintained a significant 10 point margin over the Tigers. However, persistent and determined as always, Princeton remained competitive with a barrage of three-pointers. In fact the Tigers outshot the Hokies 11-4 from beyond the arc. It was a three-pointer from sophomore guard Amir Bell that gave the Tigers a 61-60 lead, their first since the opening run. Yet in the final seconds of regulation, neither freshman guard Devin Cannady nor sophomore forward Alec Brennan were able to convert, sending the game into overtime.
During the additional period, the Tigers and Hokies exchanged baskets, keeping fans on the edges of their seats. However, fouls ultimately lead to the Tigers' demise. Weisz explained that even before the game, “Our coaches put a heavy emphasis on not fouling.” The Hokies lead the nation in free throws attempted, and this pattern continued on Wednesday when the team scored its final six points via free throws.
As many would agree, a season is never defined by just one game. Despite the loss, the Tigers concluded a stellar 22-7 season that included a second place Ivy League finish. Except for the loss of team captain and leader Mike Washington, the young Tigers are looking forward to next season with high hopes, as the entire starting lineup will return.
However, for Princeton athletes, the season never really ends; after a few weeks of rest, the Tigers will begin preparing for next year with spring training. Weisz, showing both excitement and wisdom, commented, “We see the potential of the next season to be really high and it starts in the off-season.”