After their Sweet Sixteen run last year, men’s basketball (3–0 overall, 0–0 Ivy League) picked up right where they left off with their third road win in a row over the Duquesne Dukes (3–1 overall, 0–0 Atlantic 10). Despite Duquesne being favored by 5.5 points heading into the matchup, Princeton picked up an early lead and rarely let go to maintain a perfect record early in the season.
After junior guard Blake Peters hit a three to open the game, the pace quickly slowed. It was a low scoring battle into the first TV timeout with 16 minutes left: Princeton carried a 7–4 lead. The two teams traded mid-range jumpers and drives to the basket to keep the lead at three, but Duquesne forward Jakub Necas hit a three to tie the game 15–15 a few minutes later.
About halfway through the first half, the Tigers’ quick ball movement helped them get a step ahead of the Dukes. First, Peters hit a corner three on a dish from sophomore guard Jack Scott. Peters then earned a trip to the free throw line and sank both shots. Then, sophomore guard Xaivian Lee converted an and one, capping off a timely 8–0 run. However, Duquesne would take the lead right back on a 9–0 run, forcing Princeton to call a timeout.
The Tigers switched into a zone for a few possessions and played the ball aggressively on defense, disrupting Duquesne’s rhythm. Princeton managed to up the lead to 34–26 with two minutes to go in the half. Duquesne guard Jake DiMichele beat the buzzer on a corner three to shrink the deficit to 37–31 going into the half.
Some of Princeton’s bench played in the first half — one of the points of emphasis of head coach Mitch Henderson ’98 — but all 37 first-half points came from the starters. Lee led with 14 and senior guard Matt Allocco had an efficient nine of his own, hitting four out of his first five field goals. The Dukes had a more even scoring distribution, finding most of their success from outside the paint. Point guard Dae Dae Grant led with nine. This was Princeton’s first look at a perimeter-oriented team this season. The ball pressure they applied helped stop the open threes, where Duquesne typically finds points.
Both sides looked more comfortable on offense coming out of the break, trading bucket after bucket to open the second half. A Princeton turnover led to Duquesne creeping closer — the Tigers led 44–41 five minutes into the period. Allocco then found senior forward Zach Martini for an open three to take the lead back to six. The Dukes continued to fire back with an answer to every Princeton shot, but the Tigers stayed ahead 52–49 into the second media timeout at the 12-minute mark.
The Princeton defense continued to stand tall and force the pressure on Duquesne, and after a four-minute scoring drought, the Dukes took a timeout trailing 58–49. But in the next couple of minutes, two Princeton turnovers helped Duquesne cut the Tiger lead to 58–54.
Allocco hit a mid-range jumper and a three-point jump shot out of another Princeton timeout, but the Dukes continued to draw fouls and eventually hit the double bonus. Princeton clung to a 63–62 lead with 3:21 left, as the Dukes made one final push. Martini stopped the bleeding with a huge and one at the rim to put the lead back up to four. Duquesne guard Jimmy Clark III countered with an and one of his own off a drive, but Allocco made an acrobatic finish over Clark to make it 68–65, Princeton.
Grant hit a pair of free throws, and Duquesne forced a turnover to get the ball back. Down one with 47 seconds left, the Dukes tried to drive, but a steal from Lee led to a loose ball that gave possession back to Princeton. The Tigers held a one-point lead with 21 seconds remaining. Their press break was successful, and everything seemed under control, but Clark got a steal of his own for a last-ditch Dukes attempt. Duquesne forward Fousseyni Drame attempted to finish over sophomore forward Caden Pierce to take the lead, but he fell just short. Lee hit two free throws for Princeton with less than a second left to close out a 70–67 Princeton win.
Despite run after run from Duquesne, Princeton hardly let the lead slip, and stuck to the aggressive defense and motion on offense that gave them the lead. Princeton finished the game shooting 54 percent from the field. Career-high games from both Allocco with 23 points and Lee with 20 carried the Tigers over the top.
Lee may be starting for the first time this season, but he has already become a primary offensive weapon and ball handler for the Tigers, averaging 16.7 points per game thus far. In addition, Allocco was second team All-Ivy last year, and is already making a case to move up to first team this year, averaging 19.0 points on an efficient 68.6 shooting percentage.
The starters were once again strong for Princeton, but the bench saw just 24 collective minutes throughout the game, and scored just two points. Looking forward, the bench minutes will need to increase to take pressure off of the starting five.
Princeton will continue the away stretch against the Monmouth Hawks (1–1 overall, 0–0 Colonial Athletic) on Saturday at 2 p.m., and look to continue the season’s winning streak.
Tate Hutchins is a contributor to the Sports section of the ‘Prince.’
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