Princeton men’s basketball (1–6) entered Wednesday night’s game at Drexel (5–4) looking to build off the momentum generated over its past two games, a near-upset over Arizona State and a win over Bucknell.
Instead, the Tigers suffered another frustrating defeat in a non-conference schedule full of them, falling 82–76 despite a career-high 28 points on eight of 18 shooting from sophomore guard Jaelin Llewellyn.
Drexel was powered by 31 points on 13 of 16 shooting from guard Camren Wynter, and the Dragons shot 60 percent from the field, representing another subpar outing for a Princeton defense allowing nearly 80 points per game.
“We’re trying to hang our hat on the defensive end. You wouldn’t know it,” head coach Mitch Henderson ’98 said. “I never, ever make excuses, [but] we’re putting two freshmen and two sophomores out there on the perimeter, we’ve played a hard schedule, [and] I’m asking these guys to come on the road and win a game against a really good offensive team. We failed tonight, but the one thing we’re not allowed to do is hang our heads.”
Despite their defensive struggles, the Tigers rallied late to turn what was starting to look like a blowout into a one-possession game with less than a minute remaining.
With Princeton trailing 73–59 with under four minutes remaining, Henderson put his team in a full-court press, looking for a sudden spark. The maneuver worked, as Princeton forced a handful of turnovers to cut Drexel’s lead to single digits, and a slew of Drexel missed free throws and four quick points by Llewellyn allowed Princeton to regain possession with 33 seconds left, trailing by three.
That was as close as it would get. Llewellyn passed the ball off, and a chaotic possession ended with first-year forward Tosan Evbuomwan attempting a dunk. There appeared to be contact, but no whistle was blown, and Drexel gathered the rebound and sank a free throw to effectively guarantee the win.
“The press gave us some energy, but we had to do it because we were down by so much, because we were struggling defensively,” Llewellyn said. “I’d prefer to not be in that situation.”
The first half was a back and forth affair, with Drexel ultimately taking a 40–39 lead into halftime. The Dragons opened the second half on an extended 21–9 run before seven straight points from Llewellyn and junior guard Ryan Schwieger made the score 61–55.
After that, five straight points by Wynter put the Dragons back up by 11. It wasn’t until Princeton went to the full-court press that it found an answer for Wynter — whose 31 points were a career-best — and the Drexel offense, but that ended up coming too late for a successful comeback.
“We’re searching for a primary guy to stop the other team’s best player, and we need somebody to step up for us,” Henderson said.
In addition to its porous defense, Princeton shot just 40.6 percent from the field and 27.6 percent from three. One of the few bright spots offensively was Llewellyn, who scored 18 of his career-best 28 points in the second half and made all eight of his free throw attempts.
“I thought [Llewellyn] played really well when we needed him to be super aggressive,” Henderson said. “I think we can be a very good team, and Jaelin is going to have to lead us there.”
Princeton will have nearly a week off before returning to Jadwin to face Monmouth on Tuesday, Dec. 10. With the Ivy League opener at the Palestra looming less than a month away, the Tigers will have to hope things will begin falling into place soon.
“We have to play tougher,” Llewellyn said. “We took a little bit of a step back defensively, but we’ve just got to get back to it.”