On Friday, Feb. 4, the men’s basketball team (16–5 overall, 6–2 Ivy League) met the Cornell Big Red (12–6, 4–3) in Ithaca, N.Y.
The Tigers fell 88–83 — their second consecutive conference loss after starting 5–0.
The two teams had their first matchup of the season at Jadwin Gymnasium in early January, when sophomore guard Matt Allocco drained a buzzer-beating three-pointer to give the Tigers the win. With back and forth play throughout the entirety of the second matchup, fans definitely got the hard-fought battle they were expecting.
However, the Tigers weren’t able to pull off a last-second victory this time.
Princeton came into the game without head coach Mitch Henderson ’98, who was forced to drive back from Ithaca prior to the Cornell game on Friday due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols, according to the team’s Twitter account.
Even so, the Tigers started off hot, setting a fast-paced tempo that would persist throughout the game. Senior guard Ethan Wright scored eight of Princeton’s first 10 points to give them an early lead. Cornell had no trouble responding, however, as the scoreboard saw several ties and lead changes throughout the first 10 minutes of play.
With both teams matching each other bucket for bucket, Cornell finally seemed to pull away with 4:21 left in the first half, as a sneaky back door cut by the Big Red gave them a 39–33 lead. This was the largest that the game had seen up to that point. But the lead was short-lived as an extra pass by junior guard Ryan Langborg gave senior forward Drew Friberg an open three from the corner, cutting the deficit back to three.
Following Friberg’s basket, Princeton gave up two turnovers, allowing Cornell to regain a 41–36 lead. Wright responded, continuing his stellar play with a crafty one-point finish that put the Tigers back within two. After a few more baskets and free throws were traded, the half ended with a Cornell three that fired up the home crowd, and Princeton headed to the locker room down 46–40.
Both teams shot extremely well from the field during the first half and scored most of their baskets inside the arc, with both squads recording percentages just under 50 percent. The three-point percentage was a much different story, as Princeton and Cornell struggled to get going from deep; both teams shot under 20 percent from distance in the first half. However, junior forward Tosan Evbuomwan was able to record his second three of the season and first in conference play to add to his dominant interior play.
Princeton began with possession to start the second half, but Cornell was the team that got off to a fast start, logging four quick points off of a back-door cut to the hoop and a mid-range jumper. Embodying the game’s back and forth nature, Princeton was able to respond with two baskets of their own, cutting the lead back down to six. A Cornell steal led to an easy layup and sparked a 13–5 run over the course of five minutes. Princeton managed to stay within striking distance thanks to outstanding play from both Wright and Evbuomwan, who hit their shots, managed to draw fouls, and created three-point opportunities.
With the Tigers playing catch-up for a majority of the second half, senior guard Jaelin Llewellyn — who had been relatively quiet during the first half — hit some big shots late in the game and drew a foul on a three-point attempt with 2:33 left to play. Needing all three free throws to knot the game at 81, Llewellyn coolly hit them all, and the Tigers were able to bring themselves to level with the Big Red. On Cornell’s next possession, Princeton generated a crucial steal, which led to a jumper by Llewellyn to give the Tigers an 83–81 lead, their first since it was 33–32 in the first half.
Just as the Tigers appeared to gain control of the game, the Big Red hit a deep three to take a one-point lead with 2:07 remaining. While Princeton did get some good looks at the end of the game to potentially tie it or take the lead, they were unable to convert, and their comeback efforts fell short.
Fatigue may have hampered the chances of the Tigers having a late comeback. The Princeton starters played most of the game. Four of their five starters played over 30 minutes, while only one bench player logged more than seven minutes. Cornell, meanwhile, had one starter notch 30 minutes.
Even though the game did not end as they had hoped, Wright and Evbuomwan put up very strong and memorable performances. Wright finished with 26 points with a career-high of 10 field goals and a game-high of eight rebounds, while Evbuomwan tied his career-high with 27 points and recorded a game-high of five steals.
The two stars will have a crucial role to play down the stretch for the Tigers, who currently sit third in the Ivy League standings with just a handful of games left. Should they fall out of the top four, the team would not qualify for the Ivy League Tournament and thus lose their chance at qualifying for March Madness.
Eric Lee is a senior writer for the Sports section at the ‘Prince’. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on instagram @airic.lee.