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Men’s basketball falls to Iona, 70–64

<h5>Senior forward Tosan Evbuomwan eclipsed 200 career assists in the game.</h5>
<h6>Courtesy of <a href="https://twitter.com/PrincetonMBB/status/1602835421821833216/photo/1" target="_self">@PrincetonMBB/Twitter.</a></h6>
Senior forward Tosan Evbuomwan eclipsed 200 career assists in the game.
Courtesy of @PrincetonMBB/Twitter.

On Tuesday, Dec. 13, Princeton men’s basketball (8–4 overall, 0–0 Ivy League) fell 70–64 to the Iona Gaels (7–2, 2–0 MAAC) in a back-and-forth battle at Kean University, a neutral venue. 

The game was played in support of the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Coaches vs. Cancer initiative. Before the game, Princeton took a moment to honor those in their lives who had been personally impacted by cancer.

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Senior forward Tosan Evbuomwan honored his mom before the game as a part of the Coaches vs. Cancer initiative.
Courtesy of @PrincetonMBB/Twitter.

It was no surprise that Iona would provide a tough challenge for the Tigers. With this defeat of Princeton, Iona picked up their fifth consecutive win in what has been a dominant season thus far. Earlier this year, Iona destroyed the Tigers’ Ivy rival Penn (6–7, 0–0), 78–50.

“We are very appreciative to play an opponent like Iona,” Head Coach Mitch Henderson ’98 told The Daily Princetonian. “They challenged us in so many different ways.”

Princeton seemed poised to write a different narrative for the Ivy League in non-conference play against Iona. Right out of the gate, junior guard Matt Allocco and senior forward Keeshawn Kellman seemed to immediately sync. Allocco found Kellman for easy finishes inside back-to-back plays, giving their squad a quick 4–0 lead.

Soon after, senior forward Tosan Evbuomwan threw a dime to first-year forward Caden Pierce for a spot-up three-pointer to make it 7–4, Princeton. With that, Evbuomwan reached 200 career assists, a remarkable feat for a forward of his stature.

The two teams continued to exchange buckets, neither seeming to pull away with any real distance. Off the bench, sophomore guard Blake Peters provided a much needed spark. With five minutes remaining in the half, he sank his third three-pointer in a row, going perfect from beyond the arc in the half. His bucket reestablished the Tigers’ lead, 23–20.

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With time winding down in the first period, the duo of Allocco and Kellman went to work once again. Allocco backed his defender down into the low post, utilizing a skillful pivot over his right shoulder to flip a pocket-pass into the hands of Kellman, who finished the play with authority.

The half would end with Princeton ahead by a single basket, 35–33. 

When both teams came back from the break, Princeton showed no signs of slowing down. Evbuomwan found Pierce leaking out in transition for a posterizing dunk over the Iona defense. The first-year’s slam pushed Princeton’s lead to 39–33.

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The Tigers managed to extend the gap even further by the 15-minute mark after Evbuomwan finished an and-one layup through contact. Iona’s grip on the game was slowly weakening, as the Gaels trailed 44–36.

The deficit seemed to be the wake-up call for Iona. Iona guard Cruz Davis seemed insistent on getting his way after being subbed back in in the second half. He immediately scored seven straight points to officially erase the gap at 48–48 with 10 minutes remaining.

From there, it was a similar story to that of the first half, with the teams trading blows back and forth — neither team seemed willing to give up their momentum. With one minute on the clock, and Iona leading by three, it was senior guard Ryan Langborg coming up clutch with the deep three-pointer, tying the game at 63–63 once again.

With the game in their hands, Iona had the chance to score the go-ahead bucket and take the lead with under one minute remaining. Stepping up for the Gaels was guard Walter Clayton Jr. Off of the pick-and-roll, Clayton Jr. turned the corner hard, shifting his defender with a forceful spin move into a soft floater that hit nothing but net. 

With thirty seconds left, down 65–63, Princeton put the ball into the hands of last year’s Ivy League Player of the Year, Evbuomwan. An Iona foul sent him to the free-throw line to shoot two.

Evbuomwan knocked down the first, but couldn’t connect on the second.

Down by one, it became a fouling game for the Tigers. Good free throw shooting for the Gaels sealed their victory, ultimately leaving with a 70–64 win.

Leading the way for the Tigers in the loss was Kellman, with 16 points and five rebounds. Evbuomwan added a well-rounded performance, with 12 points, seven assists, and four rebounds. Peters went perfect from the field with 11 points.

For Iona, the athletic backcourt of guards Daniss Jenkins and Clayton Jr. carried the load on the offensive end. They both put up 20-point performances.

While proud of the way they fought, Henderson took note of some things in need of a tune-up moving forward. 

“Defensive rebounding has been a strength for us all season, and tonight they had multiple second chances,” he said. “Our free throws hurt us too.” 

While Iona managed to scrape up 11 offensive rebounds as a team, the Tigers did still out-rebound their opponents on the whole, 32–31.

From the charity stripe, the team’s struggles were evident. As a team, Princeton shot just above 50 percent from the free-throw line.

“We will learn a lot from this one,” Henderson said.

They followed up the loss against Iona on Dec. 16 with a home loss against Delaware (7–4, 0–0 CAA) in the schools’ first matchup in 32 years. The Tigers will play next on Tuesday, Dec. 23 when they host Kean (12–0, 5–0 NJAC).

Matt Drapkin is an assistant editor for the Sports section at the ‘Prince.’ Please direct any corrections requests to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.

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