For Princeton men’s basketball, having players selected to All-Ivy teams has become routine, and this season was no exception.
On Tuesday, the Ivy League announced the conference’s 2023 men’s basketball awardees, and three Tigers were honored. Senior forward Tosan Evbuomwan, who was last season’s Ivy League Player of the Year, was unanimously named to the All-Ivy First Team and given Academic All-Ivy honors. Additionally, junior guard Matt Allocco received his first career All-Ivy recognition by being selected to the All-Ivy Second Team, and first-year forward Caden Pierce was named as the Ivy League Rookie of the Year.
Evbuomwan has been the centerpiece of the team’s offense each of the past two seasons, and although his statistical production has dropped slightly from last season, he has still been crucial to the success of the Tigers throughout the year, scoring 14.5 points per game (sixth in Ivy League), while also averaging 6.2 rebounds (fifth) and 4.9 assists (first). As a result, he was also a leading candidate to repeat as the Ivy League Player of the Year, but was beaten out by Penn guard Jordan Dingle.
“These individual awards are always as much a testament to the group and support system around the recipient,“ Evbuomwan wrote in a message to The Daily Princetonian. “Super happy for Matt Allocco and Cade too for their awards, very well deserved.”
“We have relied on Tosan’s versatility throughout the season and he has led us there,” men’s basketball head coach Mitch Henderson ’98 wrote. “Whether he has been asked to score, be a facilitator, or an anchor defensively — he has excelled at whatever the team has needed to win.”
Last year, Evbuomwan was joined on the All-Ivy first team by then-senior guard Jaelin Llewellyn, with another then-senior guard Ethan Wright rounding out the All-Ivy Second Team. Both players have since moved on to major-conference programs, and in their absence, Matt Allocco has stepped up as a key leader in the backcourt. Playing more than 10 more minutes per game this year compared to last, Allocco has nearly tripled his scoring average (from 4.1 to 11.1 points per game) and nearly doubled his rebounding average (from 2.8 to 4.9 rebounds per game).
“It’s a great honor,” Allocco wrote in a message to the ‘Prince,’ “but it’s all due to the support and success of our team, so I’m very appreciative of the support from my teammates.”
“Matt’s leadership is fearless and he is the engine of this team,” Henderson added. “He leads us both vocally and by example. His determination and will to win is unrelenting and evident as it surfaces in the biggest of moments.”
And while All-Ivy awardees like Evbuomwan and Allocco have been a constant presence for Princeton during Henderson’s tenure, with the Tigers having at least one first-teamer for all but two seasons since his hiring in 2011, rarely has there been a first-year contributing to the team in the way that Caden Pierce has this season.
“I’m very thankful for the recognition, but none of it would’ve been possible without my teammates and coaches that push me each and every day,” Pierce wrote. “Everybody on the team has played a role in pushing me to become a better player, and I’m very grateful for the type of teammates and coaches that I’m surrounded with here at Princeton.”
The four-time Ivy League Rookie of the Week Honoree, who is one of three Tiger first-years who has received the weekly honor this year, started every regular-season game, averaging 8.0 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. The first-year from Glen Ellyn, Ill. has come on especially strong in recent weeks, averaging 10.6 points and 7.8 rebounds over the last five contests. He has also recorded five double-doubles in the past 12 games. Pierce is only the second Princeton player to win the award under Henderson, joining Spencer Weisz ’17, who won the award in 2014.
“Cade plays with great focus on the details at both ends of the floor,” Henderson noted. “He excelled at what his role was early in the season and has developed rapidly to dominate parts of the game when it matters most. He has taken over games on the offensive and defensive boards and plays like a senior.”
Of course, awards offer no guarantee of postseason success; just ask last year’s Tigers team, which had All-Ivy awardees Evbuomwan, Llewellyn, and Wright, and was unable to capture the Ivy Madness title. And with this season being one of the most competitive in recent memory, reflected by the fact that all teams aside from last-place Columbia had an All-Ivy First or Second Team honoree as well as the three-way tie for first place that was only broken in the last week of the season, the Tigers will need nothing less than All-Ivy performances out of all three of their awardees to lift the trophy on Sunday afternoon and punch their ticket to March Madness.
“We all know who is good in the league,” Evbuomwan said. “Nothing really changes in terms of focus and strategy.”
Wilson Conn is a head editor for the Sports section at the ‘Prince.’ Please direct any corrections requests to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.