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Lee shines once again as the men’s basketball team opens Ivy League play with a dominant victory against the Crimson

Basketball player in white Princeton jersey dribbles a basketball while defended by a basketball player in a red Harvard Jersey.
Lee drives to the basket en route to a career high 33-point performance and a blowout win over Harvard on Jan. 6.
Photo courtesy of @PrincetonMBB/X.

Xaivian Lee has arrived, and all eyes are on him.

The best of Ivy League basketball was on full display Saturday afternoon as the Princeton Tigers (13–1 overall, 1–0 Ivy League) dominated the Harvard Crimson (9–5 overall, 0–1 Ivy) during their Ivy League season opener in Jadwin Gymnasium by a striking score of 89–58.


The 31-point win marked the Tigers’ largest margin of victory against the Crimson since 1992. It was also their most commanding win over a Division I team this season.

“The guys had an extra level of focus in the weeks leading up to the game,” associate head coach Brett MacConnell told The Daily Princetonian after the game. “The stakes are higher in league play.”

The matchup, which saw the Tigers make easy work of the Crimson, will be remembered as the unofficial launching of Lee’s 2024 Ivy League Player of the Year campaign.

The sophomore guard finished with a career-high 33 points and five made threes to go along with eight rebounds, seven assists, two steals, and just one turnover. His play earned him Ivy League Player of the Week honors for the second time this season.

While some fans who tuned in for the highly anticipated matchup may have been knocked off their feet by Lee’s swift drives to the basket and off-balance shot-making, he has been making life miserable for opposing defenses all year. 


As a result, Lee has received national attention. Saturday’s game, which was played in front of NBA scouts, positioned Lee as one of the nation’s best guards.

Lee ranks third in the Ivy League in per-game scoring, fourth in assists, and first in assist-to-turnover ratio — he has largely been the driving force behind Princeton’s offensive success this season that has earned them 13 wins in 14 games.

“He took a great deal of matters into his own hands this summer. He spent time on campus working with our strength coach James DeVincenzi, and was really committed and had a great attention to detail to what he was eating and his work in the weight room,” MacConnell told the ‘Prince’ about Lee, who averaged 4.8 points per game last year and is now boasting an 18.1 per game average this year.

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“All that work he put in, he carried [it] over into the fall and the winter, and I don’t think that we’re done as far as seeing his development … the sky really is the limit for him,” MacConnell added.

Lee and the Tigers, however, started off slow in this one.

Senior forward Zach Martini and the Crimson’s sophomore forward Chisom Okpara each hit catch-and-shoot threes to open scoring. Harvard began to attack the inside and jumped out to an early 11–5 lead with 15:54 remaining in the first half.

Though the Crimson played tough defense, it was poor shooting that drove the Tigers’ lackluster start. They connected on just one of their first 11 attempts from beyond the arc, and Lee himself missed his first five. They did, however, continue attacking the Crimson defense inside. They quickly put the Crimson in foul trouble early with two of Harvard’s bigs picking up two fouls each not even ten minutes into the game.

Princeton also adjusted defensively with double teams and more physical play. As a result, they forced seven turnovers from the Crimson in the first half while giving up just one themselves.

“It’s always been a focal point for us to limit turnovers and take care of the ball,” MacConnell said. Last year, the Tigers struggled with turnovers — they finished sixth in the Ivy League in turnover margin.

“What you’re seeing is the product of the fact that we’re playing a group of guys that is truly exceptional at the way they take care of the ball,” MacConnell added. “The way they dribble, the way they pass, the way they space the floor, all those things add up to us being really good at taking care of the ball.”

Despite the Tigers taking exceptional care of the basketball, cold shooting continued to be a problem for them throughout the first half. They made just five of their first 17 field goal attempts, and an 8–0 run from the Crimson capped by an Okpara jumper gave Harvard a 21–14 lead with 8:48 remaining in the half.

But this would be the Crimson’s largest lead of the game, as after this point, Xaivian Lee woke up.

Though he hadn’t notched a point before the eight-minute mark, Lee somehow finished the half with 12 points and six assists. After the 8:48 mark, the Tigers won the half 27–11 and closed on a 16–4 run to give them a 41–32 halftime lead. The starters, once again, did much of the heavy lifting, with the bench notching just 12 collective minutes.

While the rest of the Tigers struggled from the field early on, Zach Martini caught fire. Martini, who averages 8.6 points per game, finished the first half with 11 and three made three-pointers — the rest of the Tigers made just two.

“Zach is spacing the floor so well, and when he’s making shots, we’re really tough to beat,” Lee told the ‘Prince’ about Martini’s play during a postgame interview.

Both offenses came out stronger to kick off the second as they built the score to 46–36 favoring Princeton in the half’s first two minutes with both teams missing just one shot between them.

After an Okpara layup cut the Princeton lead to just five, the Tigers responded with an 11–0 run that culminated with a three from first-year guard Dalen Davis to bring their lead to 16, and they wouldn’t look back.

The Crimson simply had no defensive answer for the Tigers’ quick ball movement and shooting. The Tigers continued to find open shot after open shot, both on the interior and behind the arc, to put together another massive 17-3 run to put the game away with a 26-point lead and just under 6 minutes remaining.

At this point, Lee started enjoying himself. He connected on three consecutive contested, off-the-dribble threes to cruise to his 33 points on the day.

One of Lee’s threes saw him high step down the floor before nailing an NBA-range three-point jumper. “Once we’re out there having fun, it’s really easy to succeed,” Lee said after the game.

Shots like these are indicative of the new look Princeton Tigers that have found so much success in recent years. “In the last six to eight years, the offense has changed and evolved from the traditional more structured and more rigid Princeton offense to a more open and free-flowing offense,” MacConnell shared.

“One of the things we’ve really worked hard at is tailoring the offense to the guys in the program and making it fit for them,” MacConnell said. With Lee and senior guard Matt Allocco in the backcourt, two of the Ivy League’s most talented playmakers, the free-flowing, creative nature of the Tigers’ offense has been on full display this season.

Another one of Lee’s late-game threes was splashed in the face of Harvard’s standout first-year guard, Malik Mack. 

Mack entered this game as the Ivy League leader in both points and assists. His play has put him in the conversation as one of the nation’s best first-years, as his scoring average is the highest among all first-years in Division I basketball. He had missed Harvard’s previous three games with mononucleosis, but suited up for the Crimson’s Ivy League opener against the Tigers.

“Obviously he’s a really good player and he was a focal point of our preparation,” MacConnell said about Mack. “Whoever ends up picking him up has to be ready and focused in knowing that they’re guarding one of the best guards in the country.”

Notable performances for Mack this season include a 27-point, three-assist outing against the Indiana Hoosiers and a 32-point, six-assist performance against the University of Massachusetts Minutemen. The Tigers held him to just eight points, four assists, and five turnovers on Saturday.

After a dominant start to the year, the Tigers have positioned themselves as early-season favorites to win the Ivy League. The ESPN Basketball Power Index ranks the Tigers at 52nd in the country, while the Yale Bulldogs check in at 76th as the Ivies' next highest ranked team.

“It’s the ultimate cliche, but you gotta take it one game at a time,” MacConnell said about the team’s approach knowing there will be a target on their backs all season. “And that really starts with the veterans of the team setting the tone for the younger guys.”

“The older guys know how hard winning any single game in our league is, and they’re doing their best to make sure the younger guys know that any game, anybody can getcha, and you really have to be at your best.” MacConnell added.

The Tigers will try to extend their winning streak to five games and improve to 2–0 in league play on Monday, Jan. 15 when they take on the Dartmouth Big Green (4–10, 0–1) in Jadwin Gymnasium.

Diego Uribe is a head Sports editor for the ‘Prince.’

Tate Hutchins is a staff Sports writer for the ‘Prince.’

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