On Friday evening, the men’s basketball team (0–2 overall, 0–0 Ivy League) failed to pick up their first win of the season after a controversial no-call on the final shot of their Veterans Classic matchup with the Navy Midshipmen (2–0, 0–0 Patriot League).
The Tigers got off to a hot start, taking a 9–2 lead just three minutes in, but this would go on to be their largest lead of the game. The Midshipmen took a 14–11 advantage less than four minutes later, and they would hold on to the lead for the rest of the night.
Princeton had no answer for the Midshipmen offense in the first half. Navy shot a blistering 72 percent from the field and 62.5 percent from beyond the arc, as they took a commanding 46–24 lead into the break.
It looked like the Tigers were in for a blowout loss, but they started the second half looking like a brand new team.
“Let’s concentrate on the first four minutes, and see if we can knock off four to six points,” Head Coach Mitch Henderson ’98 recalled telling his team at halftime in an email to The Daily Princetonian.
The Tigers went above what Henderson asked of them to start the second half. With hot shooting from junior guard Matt Allocco and a dominant performance from senior forward Keeshawn Kellman, the Tigers fought all the way back to cut the lead to just four points with 13:33 remaining on the clock.
“We just had way more urgency as a team,” Allocco told the ‘Prince.’ “We started playing harder and more together.”
The Midshipmen would go on to extend their lead to 12 points with 8:12 to go, but the Tigers responded by making the defensive switch to a 1-3-1 zone.
“We were getting smoked,” Henderson said. “We couldn’t stop them in any way and it was more of a ‘let’s try this’ kind of thing, and it ended up being really effective for us.”
This change on defense caused three quick turnovers from Midshipmen guards, allowing Kellman, who led all scorers with 20 for the night, to cut the lead to two with a strong and-one drive just under the four-minute mark.
The Midshipmen would re-extend their lead to four with just 26 seconds to go thanks to a pair of free throws from their senior guard Sean Yoder, but a long offensive rebound on the ensuing possession freed up Allocco for a deep three-pointer that he would sink to cut the lead to one with 3.6 seconds to go.
The ball was inbounded from under the Midshipmen basket to Yoder, who was fouled instantly by Allocco. Yoder, who was a 76-percent free-throw shooter last year, shockingly missed both shots from the charity stripe, giving the Tigers a chance to win with a last-second bucket.
Senior forward Tosan Evbuomwan grabbed the rebound and quickly tossed it to the hot hand of Allocco, who had hit four threes on the night, and finished with a career-high 19 points. Allocco dribbled up the right sideline and pulled up for a last-second heave as time expired just in front of half-court.
As Allocco left the ground, he appeared to be bumped by Midshipmen senior guard Patrick Dorsey right in front of an official, who declined to blow his whistle. The no-call had Henderson in dismay, as he ran onto the floor in protest. The rest of the Tiger squad was shocked by what they saw as a missed foul, but the score was final as the Tigers fell 74–73 to the Midshipmen.
“They outplayed us, and I don’t think we should have been in that situation in the first place,” Allocco said.
Over the course of the game, the Tigers shot 7–17 from the free throw line and had 15 turnovers, five more than they had in their previous game.
“Playing hard for a full game and not just parts or a half” will be the key moving forward for the Tigers, according to Allocco. “If we play hard for 40 minutes we have a shot to be really good.”
Henderson was proud to see the squad refuse to quit after going down 22 points in the first half.
“I was happy that there was a lot of fight,” he said.
The Tigers will travel to Baltimore, M.D. on Nov. 14 to face the UMBC Retrievers (1–1, 0–0 American East Conference) and aim for their first win of the season.
Diego Uribe is a contributor to the Sports and News sections at the ‘Prince.’ Please direct any corrections requests to email@example.com.