In the aftermath of the men's basketball team's 71-52 blowout victory over Penn last night, the word kept coming up.
Not the score. That definitely was believable. It was the fans and the atmosphere at sold-out Jadwin Gym that had all the members of the No. 9 Tigers (21-1 overall, 9-0 Ivy League) shaking their heads in disbelief.
Behind 19 points from senior center Steve Goodrich and 16 from junior forward Gabe Lewullis, Princeton cruised to an easy victory over the Quakers (14-10, 7-2).
Enjoy it while it lasts
Penn jumped out to an early 8-4 lead, but back-to-back three-pointers by junior guard Brian Earl and senior forward James Mastaglio put the Tigers ahead, 10-8. Princeton led from that point on, stretching its lead to as many as 21 points twice in the second half. Penn guard Garett Kreitz, who came into the game averaging 12.2 points per game, was held scoreless by the stingy Tiger defense.
In what was supposed to be Princeton's first real challenge since its 58-56 win over Drexel Dec. 26, the Tigers were more than able to handle the Quaker gameplan.
"I don't think anyone on our team is surprised that we won by 19," Lewullis said. "We feel that if we play the best basketball we can, we should go through the Ivy League undefeated."
Head of the class
The victory proved once again that Princeton is the class of the Ivy League, moving the team one step closer to making its third consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament. With wins over Harvard, Dartmouth, Columbia and Cornell in the team's next four games, the Tigers can clinch the Ivy title before heading into the Palestra for the rematch with Penn March 3. Princeton has beaten its upcoming four opponents by an average of 24.5 points this season.
"This was a huge game for us," Mastaglio said. "It was as much of a must-win for us as it was for them. If we had lost this game, we would have probably had to win the Ivy League at the Palestra, which nobody wants to do."
The win was the Tigers' fourth straight over the Quakers, dating back to Princeton's 63-49 victory in 1996's playoff to determine the Ivy representative to the NCAAs. Penn has not beaten the Tigers since the final game of the 1996 regular season.
"The playoff was a real turning point for us," Goodrich said. "When we were sophomores (in '96) we thought we had a better team and they kept beating us. We really turned it around in the playoff game and we fed off that last year. Now I think we have a good frame of mind about how we play them."
While the game was not all that competitive after the first 10 minutes, the fan support, particularly from the raucous, orange-clad student section, remained strong throughout. The first home sellout of the season – 7,185 fans – packed Jadwin to cheer on the Tigers. At one point in the second half, the entire student section began jumping in unison, causing the floor to shake. The fan turnout, which has increased as the season has progressed, was greatly appreciated by the players.
"The crowd was unbelievable," Mastaglio said. "I've never seen Jadwin like this. It was great.
"It's such a big change now, with the students especially. The students look like they're having a lot of fun. There was a time in the second half when they were jumping and the floor was going up and down. It was crazy."
"The fans were just awesome tonight," Lewullis added. "It was unbelievable."
"Unbelievable," Goodrich said of the fan response. "The student section was packed an hour before the game. They were loud and they were into it. You couldn't get tired on the floor. Everyone had so much energy. They made us play better."