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TOP DOGS: Men’s basketball earns NCAA Tournament berth with Ivy championship win over Yale, 74–65

The berth is the Tigers' first since 2017

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The Tigers celebrate as the final buzzer sounds. 
Nathan Gage / The Daily Princetonian

It was a dream weekend for Princeton basketball fans.

After the women’s basketball team clinched an Ivy Madness title on Saturday night with a win over Harvard, the men’s basketball team (21–8 overall, 10–4 Ivy League) followed up with an Ivy Madness title of their own less than 24 hours later, thanks to a 74–65 win over Yale (21–8, 10–4). Princeton is the first school in Ivy Madness history to claim both the men’s and women’s titles in the same season since the inauguration of both tournaments in 2017. 

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“The women have been unbelievable for five years and we’ve been trying to catch up,” head coach Mitch Henderson ’98 said at a press conference after the game. “I don’t know about renaissance for them, but for us, I love where we are.”

“We work really, really hard for one another and we support one another and that’s just the way it should be,” he added. “We go together in our success ... I’m glad we’re gonna do that [the NCAA Tournament] together”

Aside from an Ivy title and an NCAA Tournament berth, the victory also meant the Tigers could avenge last year’s Ivy Madness final defeat against the Bulldogs, as well as two 2023 regular-season losses to Yale. The most recent of these losses was on Feb. 18 in Jadwin Gymnasium; despite holding a 19-point lead in the second half, the Tigers fell in overtime.

“We weren’t the best group all season, we started off rough,” said Henderson. “But we got better and better as the season went on… and I’m really proud of these guys.”

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The Tigers opened the game on a 12–0 run.
Nathan Gage / The Daily Princetonian

From tip-off, the Tigers looked ready for the big stage, starting the game with a 12–0 run in the first six minutes of play. The opening stretch was capped off with a three-pointer from senior forward Tosan Evbuomwan, who had only made seven threes all year entering this game. 

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Evbuomwan finished the game with 21 points, five rebounds, and four assists, earning him the honor of Ivy Madness MVP. Now with 305 career assists, Evbuomwan has passed Henderson for the eighth-most all-time in the program.

“We’ll never have anybody that’s as good of a passer as him around here for a really long time,” Henderson said.

That 12-point lead was the Tigers’ biggest of the game, as the Bulldogs responded quickly with an 11–0 run of their own. A triple from guard August Mahoney ignited the run, leaving the Tigers with just a one-point lead with 11:11 remaining in the half.

The game would remain tight for the rest of the half, as both teams traded buckets. A triple from junior guard Matt Allocco, his third of the half, gave the Tigers a five-point cushion as they took a 23–18 lead with 5:51 remaining before the break.

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After finishing with just four points and three turnovers in the semifinal matchup against the Penn Quakers (17–13, 9–5), Allocco, a 2023 Second Team All-Ivy selection, put up 15 points, seven rebounds, and recorded zero turnovers in the championship game, all while leading the Tigers on the defensive end of the floor.

“Nothing changed,” Allocco said at the postgame press conference when asked what was different for him entering Sunday. “The mindset is always just to win the game.”

The two teams continued to go back-and-forth for the rest of the half, and, for that matter, the game, but notably absent were the contributions of Bulldogs guard John Poulakidas, who failed to record a point during the first half and managed just two shot. 

Poulakidas had erupted for 30 points when the two teams last faced off on Feb. 18, and he scored 25 against Cornell (17–11, 7–7) in Saturday’s semifinal. It was Evbuomwan who matched up defensively with Poulakidas for most of the game. 

“We were all locked in on him as a team,” said Evbuomwan. “I had a lot of confidence [in my teammates] behind me … that gave me confidence to press up and take some of his shots away.”

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Senior forward and tournament MVP Tosan Evbuomwan lifts the championship trophy.
Nathan Gage / The Daily Princetonian

A layup from Bulldog forward Matt Knowling gave the Bulldogs a 27–25 advantage as the half neared its end, but eight points in the final 1:34 of the half from first-year forward and Ivy League Rookie of the Year Caden Pierce allowed the Tigers to take a 33–29 lead going into  halftime.

Pierce’s burst was capped by a fadeaway buzzer-beating three. 

“It was a big shot by Caden, we had nice momentum going into half-time [as a result],” said Henderson.

Yale began the second half by throwing the ball away soon after the inbound. On the following possession, Evbuomwan would work his way inside and turn around for a fading basket to add to the Tigers’ lead.

Soon after, senior guard Langborg would finally find his footing. Back-to-back three-pointers propelled Princeton to a nine-point lead, 44–35. Yale guard August Mahoney would answer back with a triple of his own, but an Allocco offensive rebound would open the gates for a three-pointer by junior forward Zach Martini, keeping the Tigers out in front, 47–38.

“We try to be [the more physical team] every game,” said Allocco. “If you’re the more physical team and you control the boards then I think you’ve got a great shot to beat anybody.”

The Tigers would continue to hold off Yale, and thunderous dunks from Pierce and senior forward Keeshawn Kellman would slow down the Bulldogs’ momentum and bring the count to 57–49.

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Senior forward Keeshawn Kellman throws down a thunderous dunk.
Nathan Gage / The Daily Princetonian

On the other end, Kellman would get a defensive rebound from a missed three–pointer by Mahomey, holding back the Bulldogs’ momentum even further with less than 6:51 remaining. Less than two minutes of game time later, Langborg would catch his defender off-guard with a jab-step hesitation drive into a left-handed layup pushing the Tigers back ahead by eight. Kellman would end the game with three personal fouls, two of which were charges. 

“In games like this, taking a charge or offensive foul is just a winning play,” said Allocco. “Keeshawn took a couple this weekend, and he was huge.”

A team as skilled as the Bulldogs couldn’t be held back forever, though, and a three-pointer from guard Bez Mbeng put Yale within three at 59–56. However, Allocco would retaliate with a punch-dribble into a pull-up jumper from the hash, making the gap 61–56 with three minutes left. Later on, he would sink two free throws to keep the Bulldogs at bay, 63–58, to raucous applause from many of the 3,600-plus fans in attendance.

“In games like this, it seems like a neutral environment because both teams get a great support system, but we knew in the back of our minds that it was our gym and we had a ton of support,” noted Allocco. “We’d been saying all day that when things get tight: just listen to the crowd.”

There’s no doubt that images of Princeton’s February home loss against the Bulldogs was flashing in the minds of Princeton fans — but the Tigers were ready to write a different story. After a massive offensive rebound, Caden Pierce sunk two free-throws, giving the Tigers a seven-point cushion that would hold steady until the final buzzer.

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Senior forward Tosan Evbuomwan and junior guard Matt Allocco share an embrace after the final buzzer.
Nathan Gage / The Daily Princetonian

The win was not only significant for the Tigers in that it gave them an Ivy title and an NCAA berth. It was also just the team’s second win in their last 12 matchups with the Bulldogs, who had won each of the last two Ivy tournaments.

“You’re as good as your last game,” explained Henderson, triumphantly lifting the recently cut net draped around his neck. “I thought if we had lost today, I’d be so proud of them [the team]. And I told them so.”

“That’s a really good team we beat … they’ve been on top of the league for a long time, and now it’s our turn to represent the league in the [NCAA] Tournament.”

The win will give the Tigers their first NCAA appearance since 2017, the second of Henderson’s tenure.

“Coming here, you’re always playing for something bigger than yourself,” said Evbuomwan. “This place does so much for each of us individually, and being able to give back in any way is just an amazing feeling. Being able to do that on [our] home floor, together, is even better.”

Diego Uribe is an assistant editor for the Sports section at the 'Prince.' 

Yousif Mohamed is a contributor to the Sports section at the 'Prince.'

Please direct any corrections requests to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.