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Men’s basketball completes 11-point comeback to beat Furman in last-second thriller

male basketball player salutes and yells while teammate smiles at him from behind
Senior captain Matt Allocco sunk a game-winning three with seventeen seconds left on the clock.
Photo Courtesy of @PrincetonMBB/Twitter.

As Furman Paladins (4–4 overall, 0–0 Southern Conference) forward Garrett Hien hit a free throw to put Princeton men’s basketball (8–0, 0–0 Ivy League) down by ten points with 4:37 left in the game, Jadwin Gymnasium fell silent. After an uncharacteristically toothless day for the Tiger offense, it seemed that the team’s undefeated start to the season may finally be derailed. Furman had outshot and outrebounded the Tigers by a wide margin, and shaky shooting from the team’s starters had prevented any sort of extended run. With no answer for Furman’s defense, Princeton seemed destined for their first loss, but their last-minute comeback victory to win 70–69 sent the crowd in Jadwin Gymnasium into a frenzy. 

Entering Saturday’s game, Princeton had put together an impressive stretch of games that caught the eyes of fans throughout the nation. The Tigers had spent most of their time thus far on the road, and were coming off of Wednesday's comeback win over the Bucknell Bison (2–7, 0–0 Patriot League). Prior to Saturday, the Tigers had played only one game at home, a 14-point win over Northeastern that came while most of the students were away for Thanksgiving break. With students now back from break, fans showed up en masse to give men's basketball a raucous cheering section in Jadwin. 


Princeton entered the game as seven-point favorites, but Furman was not to be taken lightly. Much like the Tigers, the Paladins won their conference championship last year before turning heads during March Madness. On the same day as Princeton's underdog victory over Arizona last spring, the 13-seeded Furman team upset fourth-seeded Virginia. Though the Paladins were off to a slow start this season, their proven talent meant they were not to be taken lightly as they made the trip to Princeton. 

The game got off to a slow start, as a first-minute layup by sophomore forward Caden Pierce was the only offense Princeton found for the first seven minutes of the game. The Tigers struggled offensively out of the gate, with three-pointers missing the mark and possessions stalling out on layups and missed free throws.

But the defense stepped up with solid man-to-man defense preventing the Paladins from getting much traction either. A trio of layups over the first six minutes gave Furman a 6–2 lead, with both sides struggling to convert contested shots. With 12:32 left in the half, first-year guard Dalen Davis hit a three to break the ice. 

After Davis’ big shot, the Tigers finally found a rhythm for the next few minutes. During an 11–5 run near the middle of the half, senior guard Matt Allocco and sophomore guard Xaivian Lee each made a pair of layups, bringing the score to 16–11 Princeton. Lee’s layups became a constant theme throughout the game, with Princeton frequently turning to the guard to create offense as three-pointers continued to bounce off the rim. Despite his small size, Lee caused trouble for Furman’s defense as he drove to the hoop and tossed contested layups off the board and in.

As the half progressed, Furman clawed their way back into the game and built a small lead. Unlike the Tigers, the Paladins found some success from three as they erased Princeton’s lead. A layup by Furman's JP Pegues made it 28–27 Paladins as both sides left the court for halftime. 

Princeton’s enormous struggles from beyond the arc defined the game to this point, with the team shooting a dismal 2-for-16 on three-pointers and only 34.4 percent from the field. Furman shot 40 percent from three and 48 percent overall, giving the Paladins the advantage in points. Thanks to decisive advantages in offensive rebounding, fouls, and turnovers, however, the Tigers overcame their poorest shooting display this season to stay in the game.


With both teams taking the court for the second half, Princeton quickly ran into trouble as the Paladins raced out to an 8–0 run for a 36–27 lead. What had been a lively student section became increasingly quiet as the game slipped further and further out of reach.

Pegues and forward Alex Williams made a series of key shots for the Paladins, and Princeton’s defense struggled to find a response. The Tigers also struggled to guard 6’9” forward Garrett Hien, whose size in the paint allowed the Paladins to create space around the rim for frequent trips to the basket. Though they had seen similar size last year against Arizona’s seven-foot center Oumar Ballo, the size advantage proved problematic for the Tigers. 

Though Princeton briefly battled back to cut the deficit to two after seven straight points from Pierce followed by a pair of free throws from Lee, the Tigers continued to miss the mark from the three as the Paladins built back their lead. Searching for offense, the Tigers continued to rely on Lee making contested layups and the defense doing enough to limit Furman.

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With under three minutes to go, Princeton began to chip away at Furman's 10-point lead. Allocco stole a pass under the basket from Williams. Lee then raced up the court and found Pierce streaking up the left side for a contested layup. His shot fell, cutting a once-insurmountable Furman lead to 67–62. The home crowd roared, a sea of orange and black rising to their feet as Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson called a timeout.

What seemed like a blowout loss in the making suddenly became a dogfight for the Tigers, whose ability to battle back gave the game the feel of an instant classic. Princeton had now scored 20 points off turnovers to the Paladins’ two, suddenly erasing the shooting mismatch that heavily favored Furman. Jadwin was suddenly rowdy once again, and no one had any plans to sit down. 

“The crowd was huge for us,” Allocco told The Daily Princetonian. “We were able to make a few plays late to get them energized and they really showed out for us today.” As the seconds ticked towards the conclusion of the second half, the noise levels inside Jadwin crescendoed to a steady roar.

Out of the timeout, Furman put the ball in Pegues’ hands as he slowly made his way up the court, guarded tightly by Pierce. After a series of passes moved the ball around the court, Pegues’ moved to pass but pulled back. This ever-so-slight moment of indecision provided enough time for Pierce to change the game once again, lunging forward and sliding on his back to secure a massive turnover. Still sliding, Pierce launched a pass to Allocco, who found Lee cutting to the basket for an easy layup. The score became 67–64 Furman with only two minutes left.

After a layup from Pegues made it 69–67 Furman, Pierce missed a layup of his own and saw the rebound grabbed by Hien. Peters charged, tipping the ball off Hien’s outstretched hand for yet another Furman turnover. Allocco missed the ensuing three-pointer, but Furman turned the ball over again when Williams traveled driving to the hoop. Princeton missed another three-pointer with 17 seconds left, taking them to a brutal 3–30 on the day. However, Furman still could not get out of their own way and sent the ball out of bounds again to make it Princeton's ball.

With just 17 seconds left, it was now or never for the Tigers, as Lee inbounded the ball to Pierce and got it back immediately. He attempted to drive to the basket for yet another contested layup, but was met by Hien. The missed shot traveled towards the baseline, where Pierce rebounded the ball. As his body weight carried him out of bounds, he hit the floor on one foot and somehow pivoted his body to find Allocco at the top of the arc. Allocco danced around an oncoming Furman defender, found just enough space to distance himself from Hien, and launched a three-pointer.

On a night where absolutely nothing was falling, Allocco could have easily yielded to the weight of so many missed shots and sent the Tigers home with a loss. But not this time. The ball soared through the air and met its mark, swishing through the net as the crowd exploded and the Tigers retook the lead, 70–69. They had only made four of their 31 threes, but suddenly that mattered a lot less when the 31st attempt went in. 

Bedlam ensued as a last-second heave by Pegues met just enough rim to roll away from the basket as the buzzer sounded. Tigers were everywhere, rushing off the bench to mob Allocco and embrace their teammates. Allocco shouted to the crowd, and his teammates stayed right beside him as they gathered at mid-court.

Turning up yet again in a huge moment, Allocco bucked the trend of missed shots that had plagued the Tigers until that point.

“We were due for a couple of makes, so that one came at an optimal time obviously,” Allocco told the ‘Prince.’

He credited Pierce for the play, thankful that his teammate had secured the tough rebound.

“He went up in traffic and found me, so he really had the tough job. He made it easy on me.” 

Lee, who finished the game with 24 points and six rebounds, was a massive part of the Tigers’ success on Saturday. When asked about adjustments made by the team during the second half, he pointed to a key tactical change in the way Princeton ran their offense.

“We started to switch more onto ball screens as opposed to trying to set pin-downs, so I think that worked well for us,” Lee told the ‘Prince.’

He also pointed to the Tigers’ competitive nature and will to win as a key factor in the outcome.

“All the Xs and Os can work out, but, at the end of the day, we made some plays, the ball bounced in our favor a couple times, and that’s what let us go on that crazy run at the end,” Lee said.

When asked about the growing hype around the Princeton basketball team, Lee expressed excitement for the season ahead and urged the fans to continue turning up.

“It’s nice to stay undefeated,” Lee told the ‘Prince.’ “The biggest thing is just not getting too high, not getting too low. Preparing for Drexel, it’s a clean slate, but we approach each game as if it’s the first one. Looking forward to that. Hopefully we have a nice crowd again on Tuesday.” 

The Tigers are now 8–0 and one of only 16 undefeated teams left in Division 1 as of Saturday’s game. Princeton received votes in the last Associated Press Top 25 poll, putting them at 34th in the nation. 

Next up for Princeton are the Drexel Dragons (5–3, 0–0 Colonial Athletic) at home this Tuesday at 7 p.m., a team riding high off of an upset against previously No. 18 Villanova. 

Joe Uglialoro is a contributor to the Sports section of the ‘Prince.’

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