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Men's basketball wraps up its third consecutive Ivy title

NEW YORK – Some nights, Bill Carmody walks off the court looking like a man on his way to a job interview – head up, hair in place, necktie neatly knotted.

But there are other nights when it seems Carmody, the head coach of the men's basketball team, has just suffered through a horrible day at the office – voice hoarse, hair disheveled, necktie loosened.

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Following Friday night's game against Columbia in New York, it was the haggard Carmody that talked his way through the post-game press conference, his voice barely audible as he fielded questions about Princeton's hard-fought 51-37 win over the Lions. But Carmody's exhausted demeanor turned into one of sheer joy when the news from Ithaca, N.Y., arrived: Cornell 73, Penn 70.

The Big Red's defeat of Penn (17-11 overall, 10-3 Ivy League), coupled with No. 9 Princeton's defeat of Columbia, gave the Tigers (25-1, 13-0) their third consecutive Ivy title. Princeton's 72-59 win over Cornell the following night extended the Tigers' Ivy winning steak to 27 games.

Big Dance

Princeton became the first team in the nation to secure a berth in the NCAA tournament. The Tigers will learn the time and location of their first-round tournament game when the seedings are announced Sunday night.

The high expectations placed on Princeton wore on Carmody for much of the Ivy season, but Friday night's events left him smiling from ear to ear.

Following the news of the Quakers' unexpected loss, Carmody enthusiastically distributed high fives and pats on the back to his players before stopping to worriedly ask if the Penn-Cornell score was official. To his relief, it was.

"I'm just really thrilled for our guys," Carmody said. "They played pretty well all year. It seems like it should have happened sooner. It's unbelievable that it came down to the last weekend."

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"It's definitely a surprise," senior forward James Mastaglio said upon learning of Penn's loss. "I was not expecting Cornell to beat Penn."

No cruising

Indeed, the Tigers entered the Columbia game thinking they would need two weekend wins to claim the league title, and fought a duel at Levien Gym.

The contest against the Lions (11-15, 6-8) Friday night went much like the Jan. 31 meeting between the two teams. The Tigers trailed for much of the first half, but entered halftime clinging to a one-point lead, 18-17. Princeton shot 6 for 25 in the half, but the Lions had shooting woes of their own, making only seven of 22 field goals.

Fatigue, which played a major factor in the teams' first matchup, again caught up to Columbia in the second half. The Lions run a variation of Princeton's offensive scheme, and they used that familiarity to deny the Tigers' backdoor cuts in the first half. But Columbia defenders could not keep up with Princeton in the second frame.

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Mastaglio converted three consecutive backdoor layups late in the second half, extending Princeton's lead to double digits and putting the game out of reach. Mastaglio led all scorers with 14 points, while sophomore forward Gabe Lewullis hauled down a season-high nine rebounds.

Homestretch

With the Ivy title already in tote, Princeton journeyed to Ithaca to face a Cornell team fresh off its biggest win of the season. The Big Red (9-17, 6-8), spurred on by the first sellout crowd in Newman Arena in over four years, played physically from the opening tip, but its aggressive defense allowed the Tigers to cut backdoor effectively.

Mastaglio made one of two free throws with twelve minutes, 55 seconds remaining in the first half to give Princeton a lead it would never relinquish. The Tigers relied on hot three-point shooting to extend the lead to 22 points before Carmody pulled the starters.

Senior center Steve Goodrich tallied 19 points, four rebounds and five assists, while Lewullis finished with 17 points, six rebounds and five assists.

With the Ivy title out of the way, the Tigers can now turn their attention to the postseason.

"In terms of the NCAA tournament, I think we have to win our next few games to get a high placement in the tournament," Mastaglio said after the defeat of Columbia. "We want to finish 14-0. We want to go undefeated in the league."

For now, Carmody and the Tigers can enjoy the relief of having secured a berth in the postseason. But come tournament time, you won't be seeing much of the "job interview" look. Carmody already has the job.

The NCAA tournament will be just another exhausting day at the office.

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