On Saturday afternoon, men’s basketball (19–8 overall, 10–4 Ivy League) earned their second-straight Ivy League regular-season title thanks to a ferocious second-half comeback against rival Penn Quakers (17–12, 9–5). After trailing by as many as 19 points, the Tigers forced overtime and eventually won, 77–69.
The Tigers entered this game — their last of the regular season — in a three-way tie for first place in the Ivy League with the Quakers and the Yale Bulldogs (20–7, 10–4), who also clinched a share of the regular season title with a win against Brown (14–13, 7–7) on Saturday. Because Yale swept the Tigers this season, they hold the tiebreaker and thus will be the top seed in next weekend’s Ivy Madness Tournament, whereas Princeton will be ranked second.
Before the game, the Tigers celebrated and recognized their five seniors for their contributions to the program. The honorees included forwards Tosan Evbuomwan, Keeshawn Kellman, Jacob O’Connell, and guards Ryan Langborg and Konrad Kiszka.
“Everything that I’ve asked [the seniors] to do over the course of their time here, they’ve done it, and now they are passing it along to the next group.” said head coach Mitch Henderson ’98 at the post-game press conference.
The Quakers entered this game as the hottest team in the Ivy League with eight straight wins. They were led by the Ivy League points per game leader, guard Jordan Dingle, who scored 25 or more points in five of those eight wins.
The Tigers had not had the same recent success, as they had dropped two of their previous four Ivy League contests. One of those losses was to the Yale Bulldogs at home, a game in which the Tigers squandered a 19-point second-half lead and lost in overtime. In their most recent win against the Harvard Crimson, they won by just two points after holding yet another 19-point second-half lead.
On Saturday, however, the Tigers found themselves on the other side of a big lead. Princeton had no answer in the first half for Dingle, who scored 14 of the Quakers’ first 17 points, and went into the half with 21 of Penn’s 42. Princeton managed just four more points than Dingle in the first 20 minutes, putting them down by 17 to the Quakers at the half.
It was a back-and-forth game to start, as the two teams found themselves tied at 13 with 13:09 remaining in the half, but a layup from Dingle ignited a 15–2 run that gave the Quakers a 28–15 lead with 7:34 remaining. Langborg responded with a tough and-one layup that seemed to stop the bleeding, but poor shooting would continue to plague the Tigers as they entered the break.
The Tigers had depended heavily on the three-pointer in the first half and without much success. 19 of their 30 field goal attempts in the first 20 minutes were from behind the arc, but they only connected on four. The Tigers also lost the rebound battle in the half, 22–17, and they gave up twice as many turnovers as the Quakers.
The Tigers, who have grown accustomed to taking leads into half-time, knew all too well that the game had not yet been won. Coach Henderson said he set goals for the team to cut the lead by certain increments at certain timestamps, giving the squad a schedule to stick to.
With 12:41 remaining in regulation, a three from sophomore guard Blake Peters cut the Quakers’ lead to just 10.
A second Peters three-pointer made the contest a single-digit game, 57–48. Continuing to claw away at the lead, first-year guard Xaivian Lee drilled a three-pointer from the wing with 7:08 remaining to bring the Tigers within six, 59–53.
Lee saw a resurgence in his role with the team on Saturday, finishing the game with two three-pointers and two assists in 22 minutes of play, the most of any of the Tigers’ bench options.
“I talk to him the same way I talk to my five-year-old,” said Henderson. “He’s loose, carefree, and when he starts to string it together there’s really something special in that.”
With 1:27 left in regulation, junior guard Matt Allocco drove to the basket off of a stutter-step and bodied his way into the paint to bring Princeton within two, 66–64. 42 seconds later, he would bring the crowd to their feet as he tied the game with a layup inside, 66–66.
In Penn’s final possession of regulation, an Evbuomwan steal sparked a final chance for the Tigers to win the game before it went beyond regulation. Amidst roars from spectators and a now rumbling court in Jadwin, Allocco would back into the paint but narrowly missed a turn-around jumper, sending the game into overtime.
“His will to win is extraordinary,” said Henderson about Allocco. “He is relentlessly focused on the things that make you win… I wish I could take parts of what’s in him and put it in other people on the team.”
To open up the overtime period, first-year forward Caden Pierce dropped in a layup to put the Tigers ahead, 68–66. Another Pierce layup following a pair of Lee free throws would keep the Tigers in front, 72–67, with 0:41 left in the extra period as Penn missed a number of shots in the paint.
Dingle would answer with two free throws of his own, putting the Quakers within four at a score of 73–69. Nevertheless, the Tigers would finish off the game with free throws from Langborg and Pierce to defeat the Quakers, 77–69.
“You’re never out of it, no matter what the score is,” said Pierce. “If you get stops, you can string together a couple scores. The game’s never out of hand.”
Princeton will face Penn once again in the Ivy League Tournament semifinals on March 11 as the Tigers push for National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Tournament qualification. Princeton will look to knock off the Quakers for the third time this season, and for the ninth time in a row, a streak that dates back to 2018. Should they do so, they will face either Cornell (17–10, 7–7), whom they swept this year and snuck past in the in the 2022 Ivy Madness semifinal, or Yale, whom they lost to in last year’s Ivy Madness final and who has emerged victorious in 10 of the last 11 matchups between the schools.
With many of the players from last year’s Ivy Madness squad no longer on the team, leaders with Ivy Madness experience like Tosan Evbuomwan will be expected to step up for the Tigers.
In Saturday’s win, the senior added 15 points and seven rebounds in front of National Basketball Association (NBA) scouts from the likes of the Denver Nuggets, Memphis Grizzlies, and Charlotte Hornets.
“He’s just an extraordinary player, a once-in-a-generation type of player that is just a joy to coach,” said Henderson. “And the one thing I appreciate about him so much is his humility. He allows me to coach him hard and takes to it in front of his teammates, and he just continues to keep improving.”
“He wrote to me before the season: humility, focus, joy, lightheartedness,” added Henderson. “That’s what he wants the season to be about, and that’s us.”
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.’
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