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Men’s basketball tops Ivy standings with wins over Cornell and Columbia

First-year guard Deven Austin threw down a dunk that gave the Tigers a three-point lead with under four minutes to play. 
Courtesy of @PrincetonMBB/Twitter.

After a disappointing loss to Yale on Jan. 28, the men’s basketball team (16–6 overall, 7–2 Ivy League) used a second half comeback to take down Cornell (15–7, 5–4) in a 89–82 victory at Jadwin Gymnasium on Feb. 3. The following evening, the Tigers comfortably took care of business against the Columbia Lions (6–18, 1–8) in a 88–66 win to top the Ivy League standings with five games remaining in the regular season. 

Prior to tip-off Friday evening against Cornell, the historic 1996, 1997, and 1998 men’s basketball teams were honored. All three teams won the Ivy League, going 41–2 in Ivy League play over the three year span. Head coach Mitch Henderson ’98, who captained the undefeated 1998 team, took a moment to speak about his former teammates.


“We were so lucky and influenced by such great mentors and coaches,” Henderson said in a postgame press conference. “That’s what you want as a head coach, for your team to experience what we got to experience, which is a really special group of guys, great players, great people. I’m just thankful that so many people came back and that we were able to do that.”

One of the key members of those teams was Brian Earl ’99, head coach of Cornell and former Princeton men’s basketball assistant for nine years. When the final buzzer sounded on Friday evening, Henderson got the better of his former teammate and assistant for the second time this season, earning his 200th career win as the head coach of the Tigers in the process. 

“It was a very meaningful game and the guys performed,” said Henderson. “But personally, it’s very difficult [winning against Brian], and I wish him luck tomorrow night against Penn.” 

The last nine meetings between the two sides had been decided by single digits, and Friday’s affair was much of the same. After the teams traded baskets early on, junior guard Matt Allocco found first-year forward Caden Pierce on the wing for a triple to give the Tigers an early 12–9 lead. 

Sophomore guard Blake Peters, who scored a career-high 16 points and made five threes, drilled two threes in a row to expand the early Tigers’ lead to 20–13. It was Peters’ second game in a row with five threes made, and he provided a huge spark off the bench for the Tigers.

“Playing with [senior forward] Tosan [Evbuomwan] and the other guys, they attract a lot of offense,” Peters told The Daily Princetonian after the game. “Cornell kept leaving me, and I tried to find the open space and hearing my teammates yelling for me to shoot gave me a lot of confidence.”


However, Cornell would fight back. Three straight threes by three different players, followed by easy baskets in the paint, capped off a 20–4 run for Earl and his team. Cornell would hold a 33–24 lead with 6:58 remaining in the first half. 

A strong finish to the half by the Big Red saw them enter the locker room with a 10-point advantage, leading 45–35 at the break. Cornell could not be stopped offensively, shooting 62.1 percent from the field in the first half and 45.5 percent from beyond the arch. 

Henderson described the game as “a tale of two halves,” and it was exactly that. After the Big Red hit a three to open the second half and take a 13-point lead, Princeton looked like a new basketball team in the second half. 

Reigning Ivy League Player of the Year Tosan Evbuomwan drove in the paint and scored with ease to cap off a 9–0 run for the Tigers. Shortly after, Peters once again could not be stopped, hitting two straight threes to give the Tigers a 54–53 lead, their first since early in the first half. 

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The Tigers continued to put more pressure on Cornell, and a breakaway dunk from first-year guard Deven Austin made it a 30–10 run for the Tigers. Princeton was shooting 78.6 percent from the field during the first 12 minutes of the second half and 60 percent from three. Cornell, on the other hand, could not make a shot, shooting a whopping 28.6 percent from the field and 12.5 percent from beyond the arc. 

However, Princeton still only held a slight three-point lead at this stage, and they still needed to close out the game. The next four minutes saw both teams trade baskets before Pierce drove in and scored with an acrobatic finish to make it 74–69 with under four minutes to go. 

Cornell would then play the foul game, but it was not enough as Princeton rallied for an 89–82 win. Princeton had five players scoring in double-digits and capitalized off the 22 turnovers committed by the Big Red. 

With five of the first seven conference games being away from home, Henderson and his players were thankful to be back at Jadwin Gymnasium this weekend. 

“It’s an amazing feeling. Being able to sleep in my own bed and not wake up in a hotel room,“ Austin told the ‘Prince.’ “We love and enjoy playing at home in front of our fans.” 

Saturday night was much of the same, as the Tigers got off to a fast start against the Lions, who sit at the bottom of the league. After a hot start, the Tigers held a very comfortable 47–25 lead at the break. 

“We obviously wanted to get out to a fast start and then at that point, the conversation was to keep our foot on the gas and not let up. I think we did a good job of that for most of the game,” Evbuomwan wrote to the ‘Prince.’ 

Allocco started off the second half strong for the Tigers. In the first seven minutes alone, the junior guard hit a three and had two three-point plays that saw Princeton go up 64–37 with 13 minutes remaining in the contest. The rest of the game was a cruise for the Tigers, who won easily, 88–66. 

The game was the true definition of an all-around team win, with 15 Tigers seeing the court. Furthermore, five Tigers scored in double digits for the second game in a row. Evbuomwan led all Tigers in scoring with 19 points and also shared the ball well, finishing with a game-high four assists. 

“[The] mindset and goals remain the same as we look to finish out the regular season,” wrote Evbuomwan. “We’re looking to win the league and go dancing and the way we do that is having the mindset of just going 1–0 each game, taking everything one game at a time.” 

With the recent wins, the men’s basketball team is trending in the right direction with only five games remaining before the Ivy Madness Tournament. The team will be back in action on Saturday, Feb. 11, as they head up north to Hanover, N.H. to take on Dartmouth (8–15, 4–5). 

Hayk Yengibaryan is an assistant editor for the Sports section at the ‘Prince.’

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