Even after securing sole possession of the Ivy League regular season title, Princeton men’s basketball is still hungry for more.
The 2022 Ivy League Men’s Basketball Tournament will kick-off on Saturday, March 12 at the Lavietes Pavilion in Boston, Mass. The No. 1-seeded Princeton Tigers (22–5, 12–2 Ivy) will play in the first game of the semifinals against No. 4 Cornell (15–10, 7–7) at 11 a.m. on ESPNU.
The tournament comes after a wave of accomplishments for the Tigers. On Saturday, March 5, they secured sole possession of the Ivy League Championship with a 93–70 win over No. 3-seeded University of Pennsylvania (12–15, 9–5). This win clinched the 28th Ivy League championship in school history.
“I’m so proud of them,” Head Coach Mitch Henderson ’98 said after the Tigers’ win over Penn in the final game of the regular season. “We’ve had two years of waiting to have a moment like this, so I’m really appreciative and thankful to be around these guys, to be coaching this team.”
Not only was it a night of team accomplishment, but it also was one of individual records. Senior guard Jaelin Llewellyn dropped 24 points on the Penn Quakers, enough to put him next to some elite company in the school’s 1,000-point club.
“It’s kind of perfect,” Llewellyn said of reaching the milestone on the same night as winning the League. “It’s just a testament to the kind of work I’ve put in … but I prefer the team [accolades] more.”
In 25 games played, Llewellyn has averaged 15.4 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game. Junior forward Tosan Evbuomwan also stepped up this season. Not only has he been a force in the paint with 15.4 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, but what has truly made his game unique is the elite court vision for a player his size; he averages a team best five assists per game.
Even after cutting down the nets, the team knows that they will have their work cut out for them in the days to come.
Although Cornell takes the bottom seed of the bracket, they have given Princeton some trouble earlier in their regular season matchups. When the two first met in Jadwin Gym on January 8, the Tigers just edged out a 72–70 win. Sophomore guard Matt Allocco helped complete the comeback from down 18 points with a game-winning pull-up three at the buzzer.
When they traveled up north to take on Cornell two weeks later, the Tigers could not write the same storybook ending. Throughout, the game remained close — in the end, however, Princeton would fall short, losing 88–83. This was the Tigers’ second (and final) conference loss of the season. Notably, Coach Henderson missed the Cornell game with COVID-19.
Cornell is one of the Ivy League’s finest offensive teams this season. They are second in the conference in a large share of the team scoring stats, including average points per game, team field goal percentage, 3-point field goals made, 3-point field goal percentage, and assist-to-turnover ratio. In each of these categories, Princeton is right ahead at the No. 1 spot.
To ensure that Cornell does not get any second chance opportunities, Princeton will have to be aggressive in the paint. Cornell is first in the conference in rebounds per game, and third in offensive rebounds per game.
“They have a really tough style to guard, and have a really good coach,” Henderson said about Cornell. “We feel like there’s room for improvement for us.”
Cornell’s head coach has a long history with the Tigers. Brian Earl ’99 was the 1999 Ivy League Basketball Player of the Year for Princeton, and was a member of their coaching staff as an assistant and associate head coach from 2007 to 2016. Princeton’s current head coach, Henderson, has seen Earl as a teammate, as an assistant, and on Saturday, they’ll meet once again as opponents.
The Tigers managed to end the regular season on a high note, finishing with a seven game win streak. They will look to further extend this streak into the tournament, where two more wins would send Princeton to the big dance, as the winner of the Ivy League tournament receives an automatic bid to March Madness.
Matt Drapkin is a staff writer for the ‘Prince’ sports section. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @mattdrapkin.