Sitting in her team room for a post-game interview Saturday night, women’s basketball head coach Courtney Banghart did something unusual: she laughed.
“You couldn’t have a better story to write,” she said. “This means the world.”
Princeton (18–9, 10–2 Ivy) entered the weekend on a six-game win streak. But the past weeks have been more difficult for the Tigers than their record indicates. Time and again, the team has seen its halftime-to-final lead shrink — from 18 points to six, from 17 to four. Banghart has called her squad’s performances undisciplined, careless, and disappointing.
It seemed an entirely different team that stepped onto the floor of Jadwin Gym on Friday night to face Dartmouth (12–13, 5–7). Last time the two squads met, Princeton earned an 82–75 victory. This time, with 18 points, sophomore guard Carlie Littlefield led the Tigers to a commanding 64–47 win and a spot in the Ivy League Tournament.
The first half of the game saw roughly even performances from the teams. Princeton led by five points for much of the first quarter, but Dartmouth clawed its way to a 28–27 advantage heading into the break.
Just over a minute into the third quarter, the tone changed. First-year Grace Stone nailed a three-pointer from the top of the circle. Littlefield followed up with a layup on a fast break. The Tigers never looked back. Over the course of 20 minutes, they stretched their one-point deficit to a 17-point lead, outscoring Dartmouth nearly two to one in the process.
Dartmouth’s drubbing gave the Tigers renewed confidence heading into their next game. On the team’s Saturday Senior Night, a thrilling last-ditch effort earned Princeton a 61–58 win against Harvard (14–11, 7–5). The team’s players, three playing for the last time, left their home court in tears.
For much of the game, Princeton struggled. Though scoring efforts from senior forward Bella Alarie and Littlefield propelled the Tigers to a slim early lead, the Crimson entered the second half up 27–25.
The third period would see no Dartmouth-esque comeback for the Tigers, who missed layup after layup, rebound after rebound. Harvard capitalized on Princeton’s mistakes; with just over seven minutes left in the game, the Crimson led 51–46.
To onlookers, it seemed Princeton was doomed to relive its shortcomings of the past few weeks. But the team’s players never lost hope.
“I believed,” said senior forward Sydney Jordan. “We needed this win, and every single person knew that. I knew every person would bring her heart through the last second of the game. I knew it wasn’t over.”
She was right. As the clock ticked on, Princeton’s three seniors — Jordan, guard Gabrielle Rush, and injured guard Qalea Ismail — saw their last home game slipping away. So they doubled down.
A Rush three-pointer electrified her team and narrowed Harvard’s lead to two. Stone ended the Crimson’s next possession with a steal; Littlefield capitalized with a layup in the paint. The score was tied 51–51. The game was on.
In just six and a half minutes, Littlefield scored seven of Princeton’s 12 points. Stone mounted an impressive defensive performance with two rebounds and a steal. Alarie logged two points and five rebounds to clinch yet another double-double for the season. Jordan got in one last Jadwin layup and rebound and Rush scored Princeton’s last two points. The score stood at 61-58.
It all came down to one final Harvard possession. Katie Benzan, ranked No. 4 nationally in three-pointers, shot — and missed. Alarie collected the rebound, preserving the Tigers’ three-point lead.
The seniors’ home career was over. Princeton was tied for first in the Ivy League. Coach Banghart had recorded her 250th career victory — and, for once, she was laughing.
“It should have been Syd and Rush on their senior night,” she said. “And it was. It was the perfect way to end.”
“I’m so happy,” said Jordan. “Our team battled it out and pulled through in that win. I couldn’t be prouder of every single person.”
Next week, Princeton will travel to Providence to face Brown (9–19, 1–11) and to New Haven to face Yale (16–11, 6–6). After that comes the Ivy League tournament — and the team’s strategy is straightforward.
“We’re going to come with fire,” said Jordan. “We’re going to come with energy and we’re going to hang a banner in this gym.”