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Men’s basketball wins 74–73 in back-and-forth game at Harvard, clinches share of Ivy title

<h5>The Tigers scored 74 points in both of their wins over Harvard this past weekend.</h5>
<h6>Courtesy of @PrincetonMBB/Twitter.</h6>
The Tigers scored 74 points in both of their wins over Harvard this past weekend.
Courtesy of @PrincetonMBB/Twitter.

Men’s basketball is one step closer to the NCAA tournament.

After defeating Harvard (13–12, 5–8 Ivy League) 74–67 on Senior Night in Jadwin Gymnasium Friday night, the Tigers (21–5, 11–2) made the trip to Cambridge for a Sunday rematch with the Crimson, winning 74–73 in a nail-biter that came down to the last shot. With the win, the Tigers clinched at least a share of the Ivy League title, with a chance to take the crown outright with a victory at Penn (12–14, 9–4) on Saturday, March 5.

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Coming into the game, the Tigers held the top spot in the Ivy League, thanks to Friday night’s win as well as Yale (16–11, 10–3) losing at Cornell (14–10, 6–7); Princeton was in the driver’s seat to clinch the No. 1 seed at the Ivy League tournament. Harvard, meanwhile, would need to win two games and see Cornell lose at Columbia (4–21, 1–12) the following weekend to find their way into the tournament. It was the first time the teams played back-to-back in 60 years, as the teams were forced to schedule a double-header due to a COVID-19-based cancellation that took place earlier in the season.  As was the game Friday night, Sunday’s matchup was certain to be tight, pitting the top-scoring offense in the league, in Princeton, against the top-scoring defense, in Harvard.

To begin the game, junior forward Tosan Evbuomwan scored to give the Tigers a 2–0 lead, and Harvard forward Kale Catchings responded with a tough layup inside to knot the score at two apiece. Although the two teams would go back-and-forth throughout the first half, Harvard did not lead Princeton once during the first 20 minutes.

The Tigers were hot early from three-point range, as junior guard Ryan Langborg, who entered the game eighth in the Ivy League in three-pointers per game with an average of 2.3 per contest, drained two three-pointers. Senior guard Jaelin Llewellyn, who put up 29 points in Friday night’s matchup against the Crimson, added a three of his own, and the Tigers were soon ahead 15–9. The Tigers’ early success from deep was no surprise, as Harvard had the second-worst three-point defense among the Ancient Eight entering the game, and Princeton had the most three-pointers made per game in the League (11).

However, as was the case on Friday, Harvard did not allow the Tigers’ fast start to prevent them from staying in the game. The Crimson showed their aggressiveness early, coming away with four offensive rebounds in the first four minutes of the game. 

The Tigers equaled the Crimson’s toughness inside, as both Evbuomwan and senior forward Elijah Barnes scored basket after basket for the Tigers early. Harvard alternated between zone and man-to-man defense in an attempt to slow down Princeton’s offense, and although they found some success, Princeton was able to score at a steady rate as the half came to a close.

After Harvard guard Evan Nelson tied the game with under a minute remaining in the first half, Evbuomwan closed with a dunk to give the Tigers the 34–32 lead heading into the half.

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Although the Tigers didn’t have a perfect first half offensively, they were certainly playing well defensively, as they had held Harvard’s two leading scorers, guard Noah Kirkwood and guard Luka Sakota, to just nine points on four-for-12 shooting. Kirkwood entered the game third in the Ivy League in scoring at 17.9 points per game.

The Tigers’ defensive prowess didn’t hold up in the second half, though. After opening up a 51–43 lead thanks to strong work inside from Evbuomwan, the Tigers were blindsided by a 13–0 run from the Crimson, giving Harvard a 56–51 lead halfway through the second half. 

In a continuation of the free-flowing, three-point shooting theme of the half, Princeton responded with an 8–2 run of their own, powered by three-pointers from senior guard Ethan Wright and senior forward Drew Friberg. The two teams exchanged three-pointer after three-pointer, as the game moved at an absolutely frenetic pace, with minutes coming between each whistle from the referees.

Friberg, who entered the game fourth in the Ivy League with 2.5 three-pointers made per game, continued to be hot down the stretch, giving the Tigers a 70–69 lead on a deep three-pointer from the top of the key with just under three minutes remaining in the half. After Llewellyn drew an offensive foul on Harvard’s next possession, Wright hit a clever reverse layup to give the Tigers a three-point lead.

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After being dormant for most of the second half, Harvard guard Evan Nelson soon began to make an impact, hitting a tough shot before forcing a Llewellyn turnover to get the Crimson the ball down by one point with less than a minute remaining. 

With Kirkwood having suffered an ankle injury in the second half, though, the Crimson struggled to find a leader to score a basket on their next possession. They ended up going to Sakota, who turned the ball over to Princeton on a left-handed drive.

With just one second separating the shot and game clocks, the Crimson frantically triple-teamed Langborg on the Tigers’ next possession, and were able to force a turnover, leading to two made free-throws from Sakota. The Crimson led 73–72 with just under 20 seconds remaining.

Llewellyn brought the ball down for Princeton and attempted to attack the hoop, but head coach Mitch Henderson ’98 called a timeout to draw up a play. Coming out of the timeout, the Tigers gave the ball to Evbuomwan, who attacked the basket and scored a tough go-ahead bucket with just 0.6 seconds on the clock.

Harvard brought the ball up the floor, electing not to use their final timeout, but were stymied by Princeton’s defensive pressure and were forced to throw up a wayward heave from midcourt. As the ball careened off of the backboard and fell harmlessly to the floor of Lavietes Pavilion, the Tigers thrust up their arms in celebration, having secured a close win and season sweep over one of their biggest rivals, as well as at least a share of the Ivy League regular-season title. The title is the program’s first since the undefeated 2016–17 season.

Aside from scoring the game-winning basket, Evbuomwan led all scorers with 18 points, and also secured a crucial eight rebounds. Llewellyn added 16 points and five rebounds of his own, and Langborg and Friberg combined for six three-pointers on 43 percent shooting. The team, which entered the game first in the Ivy League in team three-point percentage, shot 42 percent from deep as a group, including a searing 57 percent in the second half. 

As for Harvard, the loss eliminated them from contention for the Ivy League tournament. It will be the first time in school history that they will not qualify for the tournament, which is being played in Cambridge this year.

Moving forward, the Tigers can clinch the regular season title outright with either a win over Penn or a Yale loss against Brown. If Penn and Yale both win next weekend, things become more complicated for the Tigers, but they could still win the Ivy League regular-season title depending on how the tiebreaker shakes out. 

Wilson Conn is a co-head editor for the Sports section at the ‘Prince’ who typically covers football, basketball, and breaking news. He is also a senior writer for the Podcast section. He can be reached at wconn@princeton.edu or on Twitter at @wilson_conn.

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