As the final buzzer rang out, the small contingency of Princeton fans that had gathered for Monday night’s contest against Seton Hall let out a visible sigh of relief.
After four quarters of back-and-forth action, Princeton (3–1 overall, 0–0 Ivy League) came away victorious over the Seton Hall Pirates (2–1, 0–0 Big East) with the final score sitting at 62–58. Senior guard Maggie Connolly sank the final two free throws to seal the game for the Tigers.
Anyone who has made their way to Jadwin Gymnasium to catch a Princeton game could tell you it's not the rowdiest of arenas, but the energy just an hour north, at Walsh Gymnasium, couldn't have been more different. Seating came all the way up to the edge of the court, and the crowd was electric in every minute of play.
“It's nothing that we’re not used to, being in tough arenas and the crowd is against you,” Head Coach Carla Berube told The Daily Princetonian after the game. “I thought we stayed poised, made the plays we needed to, and played really great defense down the stretch.”
This is the third season in a row that the Tigers have played Seton Hall, who are a rising force in the Big East conference after they went all the way in last season’s finals of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT). Last season, the Tigers had a 10-point loss to the Pirates, but this time around, a well-rounded scoring effort from the Tigers’ eight-player rotation helped Princeton steal the win.
Junior point guard Kaitlyn Chen lobbed the ball to junior forward Ellie Mitchell for a quick jumper to kick off the first quarter, but Seton Hall forward Sidney Cooks matched it on the other end. The Pirates had both size, with multiple post players well over 6’0”, as well as agility, with guards able to sprint down the court in transition.
Pirates guards Lauren Park-Lane and Sha’Lynn Hagans made life difficult for the Tigers in the early minutes. They either went straight to the basket under Mitchell and junior guard-forward Chet Nweke, or found Cooks under the basket for easy layups. The Tigers quickly found themselves down by six as they struggled to get shots to fall and slow down the Seton Hall offense.
“We’re still trying to figure it out … every matchup is different,” Berube said. “[Seton Hall] was full of really fast smaller guards, and [we were] just trying to contain them.”
Chen pulled the Tigers back within striking distance with a valiant three-pointer, kicking off a 9–2 scoring run that pushed Princeton back into the lead. Senior guards Julia Cunningham and Grace Stone nailed three-pointers of their own in back-to-back possessions to silence the Seton Hall crowd. Even as a Park-Lane transition layup brought Seton Hall back into the lead, first-year guard Madison St. Rose closed the quarter with an assertive block to prevent the Pirates from building momentum.
“[It’s a] different environment for her, playing at this level,” said Berube of St. Rose after the game. “She’s smart, and she’s making great plays … she didn’t shoot the ball well, but she never got really down about it.”
The second quarter saw more back and forth action, with neither team able to mount more than a four-point lead. Mitchell’s offensive rebounding opened up fresh scoring opportunities for the Tigers, while her defensive presence stopped the Pirates in their tracks. At the 7:32 mark, Mitchell tipped the ball out of the hands of Seton Hall forward Kae Satterfield and slinged a pass to Cunningham, who lobbed it inside to Nweke for the transition layup.
Even as Mitchell wracked up rebound after rebound, the Tigers weren’t able to convert for points. By the end of the quarter, they had made just six of 17 shot attempts, but to their credit, had limited the Pirates to just three made baskets in the quarter. It took another on-the-run transition bucket, this time from St. Rose, to tie the score at 23–all. Seconds later, Nweke took the lead for the Tigers with a crisp jump shot.
The Tigers had a one-point advantage on the Pirates when Mitchell grabbed her third steal of the quarter. The final seconds of the half wound down as Chen reset the Princeton offense, the crowd growing louder and louder as she dribbled at the top of the key, waiting for the perfect moment.
With just eight seconds left, Chen took the ball downhill for a layup, but got called for an offensive foul. Park-Lane quickly took advantage and sprinted down court for a layup attempt of her own, but got called for the very same offensive foul as fans from every corner of the arena began shouting and booing in protest.
“It was packed, so that made it a lot of fun, especially when it came down to the wire,” Mitchell told the ‘Prince’ after the match. “Obviously, it’s a different atmosphere to adjust to, but I think we did a great job.”
The Tigers opened the third quarter rotating fast and moving the ball on offense, eventually finding Cunningham who was wide open for three. Moments later, Mitchell made space for a mid-range pull-up jump shot of her own, and Chen finally got her signature bee-line driving layup to fall. The Tigers were mounting a run, and Mitchell’s rebounds were powering much of the Princeton momentum; her total for the game had ballooned to 19 by the end of the quarter.
“[Mitchell] just has a motor and a great knack for [getting] the ball coming off the rim,” Berube said with a knowing smile. “She’s just going to outwork everybody to get [rebounds], and she had so many huge offensive rebounds for us. She just is the player you definitely want on your team.”
Even with Mitchell’s efforts, Seton Hall went on a 6–2 scoring run and cut the Tiger lead to three with just three minutes left in the quarter. St. Rose was called for a foul in the backcourt trying to tie up Park-Lane, but on the next possession, she made up for it, using a pass from Mitchell to barrel her way to the basket and taking Satterfield by surprise. She found herself at the free throw line, and sank both shots. St. Rose pulled the same move on the Pirates in the final three seconds of play and her consistent free-throw shooting opened up a four-point Princeton lead.
The Tigers opened the fourth quarter on an 8–2 scoring run, as Chen scored five consecutive points to continue pushing on the lead. But Seton Hall was quick to respond, going on an 8–3 run of their own. The final three minutes saw multiple jump balls, multiple play reviews by the referees, and even more moments that had the crowd in cheers so thunderous that you could feel the floor shake.
With just seconds left to go and a two-point advantage on the Pirates, all the Tigers needed was to get the ball in and prevent Seton Hall from coming up with the steal. It was Connolly who grabbed the inbound pass with authority, curling towards the basket and causing Satterfield to foul again. Connolly went to the free throw line, where she has missed just eight of 52 attempts in her Princeton career, and sank both shots to all but guarantee the win.
“We trust Maggie so much. She’s absolutely one of our best [free throw] shooters,” Berube said. “When she stepped up to the line, we all had 100 percent confidence in her. It was a great ending.”
By the end of it, Chen led the Tigers with 16 points, six assists and four rebounds, while Cunningham put up 12 points, six rebounds and a perfect 4-for-4 from the free throw line. Stone and Nweke combined for 14 points and nine rebounds, while St. Rose notched eight points, shooting 2-for-13 from the field, and two rebounds.
Mitchell finished the night with eight points and a career-high 23 rebounds, the most for a Princeton player, men's or women’s, in a single game since 1985. She is just the third player in NCAA women's basketball history (since 2009–10) to pair 23 rebounds with six steals, per Her Hoop Stats. It was shocking, even for Berube: “We don’t always notice [Mitchell’s rebounding numbers], but when they said it was 23? I was like, woah!”
For Mitchell, it was just another day at the office. “23 rebounds, never done that before,” she said with a laugh. “[The win] was a great team effort, I think sometimes I’m just in the right spot, [the ball] kind of lands in my hands.”
“It was a big bounce back game, I’m really proud of us,” Mitchell added.
Bounce back they did, as the Tigers improved to 2–1 after their first road game of the season. Princeton faced Fordham back at Jadwin on Wednesday and came up with a 70–67 win for their last home game before their upcoming road trip.
The Tigers will play their first of five consecutive games away from Jadwin on Saturday, Nov. 19 with a contest against Buffalo (1–1, 0–0 Mid-American). The game will tip-off at noon and will be available to stream on ESPN+.
Isabel Rodrigues is a staff writer for the Sports section at the ‘Prince’ who typically covers women's basketball. Please direct any corrections requests to firstname.lastname@example.org.