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Men’s basketball matches best start in program history with home win over Drexel

A man wearing a white jersey dribbling a basketball as a referee stands behind him and the crowd watches on
Xaivian Lee led the way for the Tigers with 23 points, nine rebounds, and six assists
Photo courtesy of @PrincetonMBB/X

For Princeton men’s basketball (9–0 overall, 0–0 Ivy League), the only thing they know is winning.

With a win over the Drexel Dragons (5–4, 0–0 Coastal Athletic Association), the Tigers tied their best start to a season in program history. The Tigers have started 9–0 only twice: in the 1914–15 and 1919–20 seasons. 


Courtesy of yet another career night from sophomore guard Xaivian Lee — who finished the game with 23 points, equaled his career high with nine rebounds, and collected a career-high six assists — the Tigers took an early lead and never looked back, beating the Dragons 81–70. 

“His will to win is extraordinary and also his joy,” head coach Mitch Henderson ’98 told the Daily Princetonian postgame about the star in the making.

“Tonight we improved, and I’m so thrilled about that … I just want to see us getting better,” Henderson added.

Alongside Lee, four other Tigers finished in double digits. For first-year guard Dalen Davis, it was the first time he surpassed 10 points in his collegiate career.

When the two teams met last season, the Tigers defeated Drexel 83–63. Coming into today’s game, the Dragons were riding high off of a top-25 victory over then No. 18 Villanova (6–4, 0–0 Big East).


The Dragons' defense has been a key for them all season. During the 2022–23 season, the Dragons allowed just 62.4 points per game, which led the CAA and was the 16th lowest total in the nation. Through the first eight games of the season, the Dragons have allowed on average just 59.4 points, the ninth-lowest total in the country. This record did not matter for Princeton though, as they scored 81 points on Tuesday evening. 

The Tigers started the game strong with a deep three from Xaivian Lee putting the Tigers out to an early 5–0 lead. After the Dragons went one for two at the free throw line, a deep three from senior forward Zach Martini made it 8–1 Tigers. By the first media timeout, it was 8–4 after Drexel guard Justin Moore converted a three-point play at the line. 

“[It’s] just trusting the work,” Lee told the ‘Prince.’ “In the game, the numbers might look good … but it’s just playing, flowing and stepping into the bigger role has helped me, it’s also really just playing as a team.”

Davis checked into the game and provided a spark to thrust the Tigers' lead to 14–7. The first-year guard from Chicago, Illinois has been a consistent option off the bench for this Princeton team. Crashing the board and playing stiff defense, the Dragons didn’t let the Princeton lead stretch beyond seven points. 

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“We have five really locked-in veterans that are playing a lot of minutes and are very cohesive, but we know once we get to league play, we’re gonna need our first-years and sophomores,” Henderson added. “[Davis is] getting better every day and that’s all we ask.”

Off the second media timeout, sophomore forward Caden Pierce rolled down the middle for a dunk that brought the crowd at Jadwin Gymnasium to its feet. Shortly after, Lee hit his second three of the contest to make it 21–13 Tigers. After a stop on the defensive end, Lee once again cashed in from beyond the arc, forcing a timeout from Drexel head coach Zach Spiker.

After the Drexel timeout, both teams exchanged baskets, with the distance between Princeton and Drexel remaining at nine. For Drexel, Moore's strong play prevented the Tigers from running away with the game. 

With under three minutes remaining in the half, senior guard Matt Allocco drove right past Drexel forward Amari Williams for the easy finish at the rim, putting the Tigers up 34–23. On the other end of the court, Drexel guard Jamie Bergens responded with a quick three to cut the lead back to single digits. The last points of the half came courtesy of a move from Lee that led to an easy basket for Pierce at the rim, making it 36–26 at the break. The connection between Pierce and Lee has been dynamic in the opening nine games for the Tigers. 

“Caden and I do a lot together, we’re in a lot of the same classes,” Lee said postgame. “That connection translates onto the court too and we play so much together in practice, so it’s easier to make those reads.”

At halftime, the Tigers were shooting 50 percent from the field, but struggling from beyond the arc, where they shot just 28.6 percent. On the other end, it seemed like the Dragons could not buy a bucket. Drexel shot a disappointing 28.6 percent from the field and 12.5 percent from three. The Tigers did not attempt a single free throw in the first half, while the Dragons earned nine of their 26 points from the charity stripe. 

Coming out of halftime, Spiker opted to go with a 3–2 zone on the defensive end. The switch only further exposed the Dragons on the defensive side. Junior guard Blake Peters, Pierce, and Martini all hit threes to increase the Princeton lead to 15, 51–33. After an embarrassing defensive effort, Spiker went back to the man-on-man coverage. 

Henderson was not worried about Peters’ start to the season. Peters is shooting just 23.8 percent from the field on the season, and before he made that three in the second half, he was 0–17 on his last 17 attempted three-pointers. 

“It makes you shake your head a bit, but he’s not concerned, so I’m not either,” Henderson stated. 

Additonally, Allocco caught fire in the second half, scoring eight points in the first 12 minutes of the half to pace the Tigers. Up 64–51, Lee got his second and-one of the game to put the Tigers up 16. After this, the Dragons went on a mini run to score eight unanswered baskets to lessen the deficit to eight points with 5:22 to go.

Lee responded on the other end with a spin move inside to make it a double digit game once again. After the Dragons made an easy bucket inside, the Tigers turned to Lee once more to get them a bucket. A screen from Pierce set up Lee’s third bucket and change to put the Tigers up 72–61. After a Tiger stop, it was Davis who hit a tough shot over the Dragon defender. Davis’ season high was just four points prior to the contest, but he was able to crack double digits on Tuesday evening.

“Just trusting the process,” Davis said. “It’s a new team and a new place to be … so just getting used to me. I thank the guys for having so much trust in me, pushing me everyday to be better and do better, along with coaches and staff.”

Towards the end of the game, both teams exchanged buckets, but the Princeton lead remained secure above double digits. However, a rare miss from Allocco within the last minute of the game allowed Drexel’s Moore to cut the lead to eight with 38 seconds remaining. Allocco found himself at the line three seconds later and padded the lead back to 10. Late game fouls and consolation baskets by the Dragons ended the game, with the Tigers emerging victorious, 81–70. 

The Princeton Tigers secured their ninth straight win of the year in a convincing and dominant win over the Drexel Dragons. Princeton shot 57.6 percent from the field on a Drexel team that was holding its opponents to 35.9 percent shooting prior to the contest.  

With the win, the Tigers are just one of 14 undefeated teams remaining in NCAA Division I men’s basketball. Prior to the contest, the Tigers had checked in at No. 8 in the first released NCAA net rankings.

Princeton will be back in action this Sunday, Dec. 10 at St. Joes (7–2, 0–0 Atlantic 10). The Hawks will be a formidable opponent for the Tigers, with wins over once-ranked No. 18 Villanova and going toe to toe with previously No. 17 Kentucky this season. 

This is a key out of conference game, with an opportunity for Henderson's squad to thrust themselves into the Associated Press Top 25 poll for the first time since the 1997–98 season. The Tigers have received votes this year and are on the brink of being nationally recognized yet again. 

“We expect to win every game,” Lee added. “There isn’t a game we walk into that we expect to lose.”

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

JP Ohl is a contributor to the Sports section of the ‘Prince.’

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