Depending on how you feel about the transitive property, Princeton (7–5 overall, 0–0 Ivy) may have a claim to be the best team in the country. Saturday, the Tigers pulled off a stunning 67–66 upset against No. 17 Arizona State (9–3), who defeated No. 1 Kansas (11–1) in its previous game.
Despite entering the contest as heavy underdogs, Princeton led for much of the game and took a 37–30 lead into halftime. Arizona State narrowed the margin in the second half, and the lead changed hands repeatedly in the game’s final 10 minutes. Finally, junior center Richmond Aririguzoh drew a foul with 25 seconds left and knocked down both free throws to give Princeton a one-point lead. Princeton endured three Arizona State missed shots in the final seconds to secure the win and ignite an exuberant celebration in front of a shocked home crowd in Tempe, Ariz.
Given the circumstances, not even the most hard-core Princeton supporter could have seen this result coming. Just two games earlier, the Tigers had been completely overpowered in a 101–50 loss at No. 2 Duke (11–1), and they were missing senior guard Myles Stephens, one of their most reliable contributors on both ends of the floor.
Nonetheless, Princeton never looked outmatched by its nationally ranked opponent. Arizona State began the game cold offensively, allowing Princeton to leap out to a 13–5 lead. Later, after Arizona State erased a 10-point Princeton lead in the second half, the Tigers refused to roll over, trading baskets with the Sun Devils and putting themselves in a position to win the game in its last minute.
Holding Arizona State, which was averaging over 80 points per game before the contest, to 66 points also represents a major accomplishment for a Princeton squad that has struggled defensively this season.
In Stephens’s absence, Princeton leaned heavily on senior guard Devin Cannady offensively. Cannady led Princeton in scoring with 21 points on 7–16 shooting, including 5–12 from three. The Tigers also received valuable contributions from two players who have received inconsistent playing time this season, sophomore forwards Jerome Desrosiers and Sebastian Much. They had 16 and 13 points respectively, and Much nailed a contested three-pointer with 2:26 remaining to put Princeton ahead 65–64.
Prior to its upset of Arizona State, Princeton had looked mostly unremarkable in non-conference play and was considered a tier below Ivy League foes Penn (10–3), Harvard (6–5), and Yale (7–3), who each had victories over power conference teams or NCAA tournament regulars. Having earned a signature non-conference win of their own in their final game before opening Ivy play next Saturday against Penn, the Tigers showed they belong in the conversation as Ivy League contenders. That said, the Tigers are unlikely to let this win go to their heads — just last year, Princeton defeated USC in a road upset but then underperformed against Ivy League teams, finishing fifth and missing the conference tournament. If Princeton can continue to play the way it did against Arizona State, however, it has good reason to feel hopeful about its chances this year.