One week after beating Penn (10–6, 0–2 Ivy) in overtime to open Ivy League play, Princeton (9–5, 2–0) defeated the Quakers again, this time at the Palestra in a 62–53 defensive struggle.
Everyone involved agreed that playing both legs of the Princeton-Penn men’s basketball rivalry on consecutive weekends in early January felt bizarre. However, after the Tigers emerged from the stretch with two wins, they should see little reason to complain.
“It was a long two weeks,” said head coach Mitch Henderson ’98. “Of course, we came out on top, but I thought it was two really tough, good games.”
This game followed a similar script to last Saturday’s. Once again, Princeton got off to a slow start before bouncing back to take control of the game in the second half. Once again, both teams struggled to find a rhythm offensively. And once again, Princeton relied heavily on its senior leaders, guards Myles Stephens (13 points) and Devin Cannady (20 points), along with its breakout star, junior center Richmond Aririguzoh (17 points).
Despite not logging major minutes until this season, Aririguzoh looked at times like Princeton’s best player. With the team shooting abysmally early in the first half, his close-range baskets and rebounding kept them in the game. Then, with Princeton clinging to a 54–50 lead late in the second half, the ball found its way to him in the post. He flipped in a layup over Penn’s star forward AJ Brodeur to all but clinch the win.
“He’s been playing amazing,” said Cannady about Aririguzoh. “The way he guarded Brodeur, the way he’s scoring on offense, he makes us so much better.”
Somewhat unexpectedly, Princeton owes this win to its defense and rebounding rather than its high-powered offense. The Tigers began the game shooting 2–17 from the field, but held the Quakers in check to keep the game competitive. Penn finished the game with just a 32.8 shooting percentage and Princeton held the rebounding advantage 55–34, including 16 offensive rebounds.
“We didn’t play well in either game, but we defended well,” said Henderson. “Tonight, we didn’t shoot the ball well, and we turned it over, but we had offensive rebounds.”
“Especially since we were missing shots in the first half, we had to come up with those boards,” added Aririguzoh.
Eventually, Princeton managed to get its offense going as well. After trailing 20–10 during the first half, the Tigers fought back to tie the game at 27 at halftime. In the second half, as Penn continued to brick shots, Princeton slowly began to pull away. The critical juncture came midway through the second half when Stephens scored 10 of Princeton’s points in a row to put the Tigers up 54–47 with less than five minutes remaining. Penn closed the gap to four but never got any closer than that.
“I think [Stephens] understands the success he’s had in the Ivy League,” said Cannady. “His focus and his willingness to do things he hasn’t done in the past for the team is making leaps and bounds for our program.”
With this year’s Ivy tournament moving to New Haven, Saturday’s game was the last for Princeton’s seniors at the Palestra, which was nearly packed and highly energized throughout despite Penn students still being on winter break. Those seniors, several of whom played major roles on the Princeton team that won the inaugural Ivy tournament at the Palestra in 2017, made sure they left the historic arena the right way.
“For us seniors, it’s our last time playing in the Palestra,” said Cannady. “So coming here, we needed a win.”