In the final stretch of its Ivy League opener at home against Penn (10–5 overall, 0–1 Ivy), Princeton men’s basketball (8–5, 1–0) couldn’t seem to get out of its own way. First, the Tigers stalled offensively and blew a 59–51 lead in the game’s final minutes as Penn forced overtime. In the overtime period, Princeton missed the front end of a one-and-one twice, allowing Penn to grab a crucial rebound off its own missed free throw and throw the ball out of bounds on an inbounds play.
Somehow, Princeton came out with the win anyway. The team offset its miscues with a solid defensive effort, particularly in overtime, and earned a 68–65 overtime victory to kick off conference play.
When asked after the game what allowed Princeton to triumph despite the sloppiness, senior guard Myles Stephens had a simple answer — “Grit,” he said. “We lost four overtime games last year, and we said ‘we’re not doing that again.’”
Penn began the game hot on the offensive end and leaped out to a 19–10 lead early in the first half. After that, Princeton became stingier on defense, eventually taking a 33–32 lead into the locker room for halftime. In the second half, Penn struggled with its shooting, and Princeton slowly built up an eight-point lead with five minutes remaining.
To their credit, the Quakers were far from finished. They began to stifle Princeton offensively, and scored a series of quick baskets, which culminated with a corner three from Devon Goodman, giving Penn a 62–61 lead. Sophomore forward Sebastian Much drew a foul on the next possession and made one of his free throws to tie the game. Then, Goodman dribbled the ball off his foot, first-year guard Jaelin Llewellyn missed a would-be game-winning midrange jumper for Princeton, and the game went to overtime.
In overtime, neither team took control. For all of Princeton’s mistakes, Penn may have been even sloppier in the five-minute period. The Quakers didn’t make a single field goal and shot 3–8 from the free-throw line in overtime. Eventually, Princeton scored a critical floater from senior guard Devin Cannady and a pair of free throws from Much to give itself a three-point lead. Penn missed a desperate heave as time expired, and the Tigers snuck away with the win.
What made the win even more remarkable was the fact that Cannady, Princeton’s leading scorer, had an unusually poor shooting night. Cannady was 0–6 from three, even missing a few open ones, and missed both of his free throws. Picking up the slack were junior center Richmond Aririguzoh, who had 20 points and defended bruising Penn forward AJ Brodeur well, and Stephens, who pulled down 16 rebounds in addition to scoring 11 points.
Princeton received valuable contributions from its younger players, who had to quickly adjust to an increasingly intense and physical environment. Much and fellow sophomore forward Jerome Desrosiers scored nine and ten points, respectively, and though Llewellyn struggled shooting the ball, he contributed five key points in the second half.
Stephens said of his underclassmen teammates, “They’re like seniors now.” He continued, “It’s always great when you have young guys you can trust to make big plays.”
Those for whom 45 minutes of Princeton-Penn basketball still wasn’t enough are in luck. The two teams will play again, this time at the Palestra, next Saturday in a strange scheduling twist that has both Princeton-Penn games being played before Penn students even return to campus from winter break.
The Ivy League schedule is long and demanding, particularly with the quality of competition this year, but the win against a Penn team that’s considered one of the league’s best represents a step in the right direction for Princeton.
“We’re trying to go 7–0 on this court,” said Stephens. “We’re 1–0 so far.”