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Winning streak snapped as men’s basketball falls to St. Joe’s, 74–70

Group of men in orange and black uniforms talk during stoppage of play.
Men's basketball huddles on court during a stoppage versus St. Joes.
Photo courtesy of @PrincetonMBB/X.

With their undefeated start to the season on the line, the Princeton men’s basketball team (9–1 overall, 0–0 Ivy League) traveled to Philadelphia to take on the St. Joseph’s Hawks (8–2, 0–0 Atlantic 10). Off to their best start to a season since the 1919-20 season, the Tigers looked to cement their place in school history as a win would give the program their first-ever 10–0 start. Coming off a dominant 81–70 win over Drexel (5–5, 0–0 Colonial Athletic Association), the Tigers fell to the Hawks in a back-and-forth loss. 

With a 7–2 start anchored by a win over basketball powerhouse Villanova (7–4, 0–0 Big East), St. Joe’s has caught the eyes of viewers across the country as the Tigers have. Along with their win over Villanova, they beat fellow Philadelphia schools Temple (6–3, 0–0 American Athletic Conference) and Penn (7–5, 0–0 Ivy League) to take home the City of Brotherly Love’s annual Big 5 basketball title this November. Save for a shock loss to Texas A&M Commerce (5–6, 0–0 Southland) in November, the Hawks have built a competitive resume as they seek to make their case for a March Madness bid. With Princeton looking to secure another non-conference win, the two duked it out on the court in a widely anticipated mid-major showdown.


From the outset of the game, the Tigers stayed true to their offensive identity with a barrage of three-pointers and strong offensive rebounding. Early three-pointers by sophomore star guard Xaivian Lee and junior guard Blake Peters vaulted Princeton to an early 6–2 lead in a packed Hagan Arena. On their next two possessions, the Tigers flexed their strength in the paint with two offensive rebounds each possession, leading back to a 11–4 lead.

After another three from Peters stretched the Princeton lead to 17–8, the Hawks began to establish their dominant top-30 defense. Until this point, the Tigers were shooting five-for-10 from behind the arc. As the Hawks tightened up their 3–2 zone defense, Princeton repeatedly ran into trouble as St. Joe’s whittled away at the lead. Each offensive possession seemed to lead to a dead end for the Tigers, with missed threes from various key starters alongside frequent turnovers and fouls. 

As guard Lynn Greer III converted a layup with five minutes left, St. Joe’s capped off a 12–0 run to flip the script and establish a 27–22 lead. A rowdy home crowd had come to life, and for the first time all day, St. Joe’s held the momentum. 

Princeton quickly tied the game once again, with a three from Lee and a layup from senior forward Zach Martini knotting the score at 27. The squads traded the lead for the rest of the half, and St. Joe’s led 33–31 at the break. 

Particularly notable in this first half was sophomore guard Jack Scott, who made his mark off the bench with a seven-point first half. This was especially encouraging for the Tigers, who rank last in Division 1 with an average of 8.22 points per game off the bench. For the team to continue its momentum throughout the season, Scott and the rest of the bench will need to continue establishing a presence in the rotation.

Princeton began the second half as they did the first, coming out of the gate with a fire under them and the three-point shots working wonders. Their first three possessions led to made threes courtesy of sophomore forward Caden Pierce, Peters, and Lee. Lee made a layup quickly after, giving the Tigers a 42–36 lead early in the half.


Much like they had in the first half, the St. Joe’s defense came alive in dominant fashion after faltering early. After Lee’s layup, the Tigers endured a three-minute scoring drought as the Hawks once again battled back to take the lead. Sophomore standouts Pierce and Lee each picked up their third foul, sending them to the bench in foul trouble. The Tiger bench, ranked last out of 351 D1 teams, needed to step up in a major fashion to keep the game competitive. 

With both sides trading leads once again, a once-clean game turned sloppy as the Tigers began to foul at a much higher rate than their opponents. After dueling threes from Martini and Hawks guard Erik Reynolds, Scott and senior guard Matt Allocco fouled St. Joe’s players who were attempting layups on back-to-back possessions. Each time, the shooter made the layup and the following free throw, opening up a commanding 54–47 lead for the Hawks with just under ten minutes left.

In desperate need of help from his bench, head coach Mitch Henderson ’98 turned to first-year guard Dalen Davis for help. A four-year varsity starter out of Whitney Young High School in Chicago, Davis has played the most minutes thus far of any Princeton first-year. After scoring 11 in the win against Drexel, Davis played an even larger role for the Tigers on Sunday. Straight off the bench, he hit a three-point shot to bring the deficit back down to four. His next shot, a pull-up jumper inside the arc, also found the net. After a three on the other end by St. Joe’s, Davis stepped up to the arc and hit another three over Reynolds to keep the game close. Finally, Princeton had their spark off the bench.

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After a flurry of points from both sides led to a 63–62 St. Joe’s lead with four minutes left on the clock, Davis stepped up once again. Matched up against fellow guard Xzayvier Brown of St. Joe’s, Davis moved left, stepped back and pulled a three from well beyond the arc. As he held his hand in the air on the follow-through, his shot connected from deep and vaulted the Tigers back into the lead. He was five for five from the field and had orchestrated the Tigers’ comeback with 13 of their last 18 points. 

“Dalen has a great ability to make tough shots,” Allocco told The Daily Princetonian. “He gave us a great spark tonight and put us in a position to potentially win the game.” 

With under three minutes to go, both teams were tied at 65 as the frenzied crowd gave the game the undeniable feel of March Madness. Lee hit a massive three to take the lead, but guard Cam Brown answered with one of his own to tie the game back at 68. On the next possession, Lee was fouled going to the basket and stepped to the line for a pair of crucial free throws. The St. Joe’s student section, realizing the gravity of the situation, erupted into a chorus of screams and waving hands. Lee, an 83 percent free throw shooter, missed both.

The Tigers received more bad news on the other end just seconds later as Pierce fouled out with 1:35 remaining. Reynolds made both of his free throws, setting up a stark contrast with what had just happened to Lee and what was about to happen to Davis, who then missed two free throws of his own on the ensuing possession.

Suddenly, what had been a back-and-forth affair for 39 minutes straight began to slip away from the Tigers. Almost no team in the country, undefeated or otherwise, can overcome poor free throw shooting with key players fouling out simultaneously, and Princeton was no exception. 

Down 70–68 with under a minute to go, Peters attempted a very deep three-pointer from the left-center of the arc and missed it short. With seventeen seconds left, Reynolds missed a three of his own and sent both sides into a scramble for the ball. Without 6’7” Pierce crashing the boards, St. Joe’s Brown came up with the ball to bring a decisive end to the game. Both sides traded free throws over the next ten seconds, but the Tigers ultimately came up short with a 74–70 loss.

What had been a 9–0 start for the Tigers will now remain frozen in the record books alongside the 1914–15 and 1919–20 seasons. Princeton came tantalizingly close to that elusive tenth win, but playing such a dominant out-of-conference foe away from home proved too much for the Tigers. Their record remains strong heading into the end of out-of-conference play, with their 9–1 start keeping them among the nation’s elite. Still, it takes a lot for a team from a conference like the Ivy League to be nationally recognized, and even just one loss may take them out of the spotlight for some time. 

“We’ll look at where we struggled and get back to focusing on the smaller details that have helped us be successful,” Allocco told the ‘Prince.’ Had the team stayed true to their reputation as the nation’s fifth-best free throw shooters, perhaps the game would have ended differently. Even with the missed free throws and early foul trouble, the Tigers stayed competitive until the end.

Nevertheless, the Tigers exited today’s game with one positive takeaway that could define how their season ends: the emergence of the bench. Scott was a key roleplayer off the bench, and Davis was downright dominant as he builds his case for a significant role with the team this year and beyond.

The Tigers continue their season with a pair of Division III foes over the next two weeks, as basketball minnows Bryn Athyn and Delaware Valley visit Jadwin Gymnasium on the 13th and 22nd. The Tigers will be heavily favored in both games, looking to balance the rigor of the end of the semester with a pair of wins before winter break. 

Joe Uglialoro is a staff writer for the Sports section of the ‘Prince.’

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