On Feb. 17, men’s basketball (17–8 overall, 8–4 Ivy League) shook off the Brown Bears (13–12, 6–6), 78–67. The day after, on Feb. 18, they suffered a heartbreaking overtime loss against the Yale Bulldogs (18–7, 8–4) in front of a crowd of over 2,600 at Jadwin Gymnasium, 93–83. With the Ivy League tournament looming, the team had a fleeting reign atop the standings on Friday before falling to a tie for first place with Yale and Penn.
In a game that featured 48 foul calls, including two technicals against Brown, the Tigers were able to find their stride early on. They opened up scoring with a 6–0 run consisting of a pair of three-pointers from senior guard Ryan Langborg and junior guard Matt Allocco.
Allocco would go on to tally 20 points in the win on 6-for-11 shooting, along with a perfect six-for-six mark from the free-throw line.
Brown would soon bounce back with five unanswered points of their own to nearly even the score, 6–5. Later, three-pointers from senior guard Konrad Kiszka and sophomore guard Blake Peters would see the Tigers expand the lead 21–12 with 10:34 remaining in the first half.
With first-year guard Deven Austin out of the rotation, Kiszka has had an increased role in the Tigers’ rotation.
“Konrad has stepped in nicely,” head coach Mitch Henderson ’98 said in a post game press conference. “We’ve sort of had a next man up philosophy all season.”
After a pair of free throws from senior forward Tosan Evbuomwan increased the Tigers’ lead to double-digits. After Yale cut the lead to 25–22, Peters would spark a second 6–0 run to put the Tigers ahead, 31–22. First-year forward Caden Pierce would later sink two from the stripe, giving Princeton a 39–29 advantage going into the second half.
Evbuomwan had 17 points and nine rebounds in Friday’s win and has played a crucial role in his senior season.
“I think every game’s a championship game,” Evbuomwan said. “Hopefully that can put us in a good spot and mindset going into the tournament.”
Early in the second, a pair of Allocco free-throws would push the Tigers even further to a 44–23 advantage with 16:34 left to play. Soon, Peters would maintain the gap between the Tigers and the Bears with a strong drive inside followed by a three-pointer, making the score 58–47 with 8:23 remaining in the contest.
The Tigers would go on to close out the 78–67 win with a mighty two-handed Pierce dunk off a long Evbuomwan lead pass, splitting the season with Brown.
On Saturday, with Yale’s leading scorer and forward Matt Knowling out following an injury Friday against Penn, the Tigers sought to capitalize on the star’s absence. Junior forward Zach Martini opened up the game with back-to-back three-pointers, giving Princeton an early 6–1 lead. Martini dropped a career-high 12 points on four made three-pointers.
Soon, Evbuomwan would follow with his own back-to-back baskets inside to extend the Tigers’ lead to seven with 14:53 remaining in the half.
Cheers from the crowd resounded as the senior led Princeton in all three major statistical categories, adding 22 points, 10 rebounds, and a game-high six assists. He moved into the top-10-all-time in program history with his career assist tally, which now stands at 286.
“We have a great home crowd, and I’m sure there will be one if we’re lucky enough to be in the tournament,” Evbuomwan said. “But the energy has to come from within. I don’t think we can rely on our crowd to give us that energy.”
Yale began the game shooting one-for-six from the field, but Bulldogs guard John Poulakidas would go on a solo 10–0 run to bring the Bulldogs within one point of erasing the Tigers’ lead with 4:36 left in the half. Going into the second, Princeton was up 34–26 on 62 percent shooting from the field and 75 percent shooting from deep.
The second half began with early jumpers from Allocco and Martini, keeping the Bulldogs on a leash, 44–32. Yale would retaliate with a rim-grazer from forward EJ Jarvis and a three-pointer from guard Bez Mbeng, forcing the Tigers to go back and forth. Following a layup from senior forward Keeshawn Kellman, Bulldogs guard Yassine Gharram would tip the ball away from the Princeton offense to bring Yale within nine.
Langborg answered with a deep triple off a pump fake at the wing to keep the Tigers out in front, 52–40, with 11:01 remaining in the half. Pierce would sink his own three-pointer tightly guarded by the Yale defense. The Bulldogs would respond with a full-court press on the next Tigers possession, but Evbuomwan followed up with a block paired with a coast-to-coast conversion to keep Princeton up 57–42.
The Bulldogs chipped away at the lead, going on a 7–0 run to shrink the Tigers’ advantage to 63–51 with 6:44 left to play. Not long after, with Princeton up 69–66 with 11 seconds remaining in the game, Henderson would choose to have his players intentionally foul Mbeng, sending him to the line. Mbeng sank both free throws, putting Yale within one point of the Tigers, 69–68.
“We might have [fouled too quickly],” Henderson said. “I thought we should have waited a little bit longer. In hindsight, you can look at it: they made every single free throw. Mbeng made a hell of a play. I think we lost the game a little bit earlier than that.”
Despite shakes in the stands and roars from the crowd, Yale would tie the game at 70 and send it into overtime.
To open the period, Langborg and Kellman put the Tigers up each with a pair of good free throws, each with 4:18 remaining. Soon however, a Poulakidas three-pointer with three minutes remaining would give the Bulldogs a 77–74 lead that they maintained for the rest of the game.
“I could have done a better job of picking guys up and encouraging as the game went on,” Evbuomwan noted. “We gave up a massive lead and I could have done a better job.”
Despite leading by 19 at one point in the game, the Tigers suffered a tragic 93–83 overtime loss to a Yale team that outscored Princeton 49–20 over the final eight minutes of regulation and five minutes of overtime.
“We’re learning how hard it is to win in really painful fashion,” Henderson added. “These games have such importance and such weight, I think that’s going to help us ...We have to grab something out of this, but I’m not sure what it is right now.”
Going into the Ivy League tournament from March 11–12 at Jadwin Gym, the Tigers hope to iron out any issues as the season comes to a close.
“This one hurts a lot, but it’s not over,” Henderson said. “It’s not as bad as it’ll hurt if you don’t get where you want to get in a couple weeks. We’re going to come back fighting.”
Men’s basketball will be in Cambridge, Mass. on Feb. 25 as they look for a win against the Harvard Crimson (13–13, 5–9) in their second-to-last regular season matchup.
Yousif Mohamed is a contributor to the Sports section at the ‘Prince.’
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