In front of a sold-out crowd at Jadwin Gym, the Tigers (17–3 overall, 5–2 Ivy League) triumphed over the Penn Quakers (9–13, 1–6) after a late second half run. The Tigers had one of their best shooting performances of the year, connecting on 16 shots from beyond the arc and attempting their most three-point shots in any game since 2016.
“It was amazing,” sophomore forward Caden Pierce told The Daily Princetonian postgame. “The fans showed out and it really helped us down the stretch. We feed off that energy and we’re really thankful.”
Prior to tipoff, guard Clark Slajchert was activated for the Quakers. The senior had not played in a game for the Quakers since December 30th, when he injured his ankle against then-No. 3 ranked Houston. Slajchert was Penn's leading scorer prior to that contest, averaging 17.4 points per game.
“We prepared for him,” Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson ’98 told the ‘Prince.’ “They’re very different from him [Slajchert] … he didn’t look like he missed a step, really tough kid.”
The Quakers started hot in the 249th meeting between the two sides, scoring the first five points of the contest. Pierce got the scoring started for the Tigers courtesy of a pass from fellow sophomore guard Xaivian Lee. The next possession, Lee once again found Pierce, who converted a three-point shot.
Lee and Pierce both finished the game with double-doubles. Pierce finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds while Lee shone once again, scoring 22 points and grabbing ten boards.
After Slajchert scored to give the Quakers an early 12–5 lead, Lee found Pierce in the corner for his second triple of the game. Pierce scored the first eight points of the game for Princeton, all coming off passes from Lee.
“He makes my job easy,” Pierce added about Lee. “He finds me in spots where I’m successful.”
Down 19–13 with just under 13 minutes remaining in the first half, the Princeton offense ignited. A three by senior guard and captain Matt “Mush” Allocco capped off a 7–0 Tiger run and gave Princeton its first lead of the game.
After Quakers head coach Steve Donahue called a timeout, Lee connected on two straight triples to give the Tigers a 26–22 lead. With 7:45 left in the half, junior guard Blake Peters hit a three to give Princeton its largest lead of the half.
After the score by Peters, it was all Penn for the remainder of the first half. The Quakers went on an 18–7 run to close out the half, shooting a lights-out 50 percent from the field in the first half. At the break, Henderson’s squad had work to do as the Tigers trailed 40–36.
To start the second half, the teams traded baskets out of the gate. With just under 18 minutes remaining in the game, Lee drove baseline and found senior forward Zach Martini for a corner three to cut the Penn lead to one point. After shooting one for seven from the field in the first half, Martini shot 67 percent from the field in the second half.
The next four minutes saw both sides struggle offensively. The Tigers and Quakers combined for just four points during that stretch. Down 44–43, the Tigers put their foot on the gas. Lee used his speed to get by his defender and finish at the rim through contact, completing a three-point play at the line.
On the next offensive possession, Martini converted on his third triple of the night over Quaker center Nick Spinoso. The 6’9” big man for Penn made his presence known inside the paint, scoring 19 points and grabbing a game-high 14 boards.
When the Tigers went on a 8–2 run to go up 51–46, the Quakers went on their own 8–2 run to take a 54–53 lead. The game saw a total of seven lead changes and six occasions where the game was tied.
With the game tied at 56, Martini once again converted his fourth triple of the half to give Princeton a three-point lead. The shot brought the sold-out crowd at Jadwin to its feet.
Following the three by Martini, Penn guard Tyler Perkins immediately responded with a three to tie the game. Less than 15 seconds later, Pierce found Peters for an open three from the wing. On the next Penn possession, Spinoso finished inside the paint to keep the game within reach for the Quakers. With seven minutes remaining, Princeton held a slim 62–61 lead.
Unfortunately for Penn, they went scoreless when it mattered most, failing to get the ball through the hoop for three minutes. At home in front of the Tiger faithful, Princeton capitalized on Penn’s offensive struggles. After four straight points from Allocco, Peters stroked two straight three-pointers to give the Tigers their largest lead of the night at 11, with just over four minutes to go.
Incredible ball movement for the Tigers on this possession.— Daily Princetonian Sports (@PrinceSports) February 11, 2024
The Tigers have their largest lead of the night courtesy of a Blake Peters triple.
It’s the 15th triple of the night for @PrincetonMBB
4:13 to go:@PrincetonMBB 72@PennMBB 61 pic.twitter.com/3NjSS5WWMz
“Penn did a good job at helping a lot, so Zach [Martini] and Blake [Peters] were open a lot,” Lee added postgame. “So it’s obviously big when they’re hitting shots.”
Following the timeout, it proved to be too little, too late for the Quakers. The last four minutes of the game proved to be the most comfortable for the Tigers, as they held on for a 77–70 win over the Quakers. The key for the Tigers in the second half was limiting turnovers and hitting its shots. Henderson’s squad had just one turnover and shot 44.4 percent from beyond the arc in the second half.
The Tigers attempted 38 threes Saturday evening, the most they’ve attempted since 2016 when they attempted 39 against Virginia Tech in a 86–81 overtime loss.
“I thought we shot the ball nicely,” Henderson told the ‘Prince.’ “But they were open shots. I think if it’s 25 feet or two feet, if it’s an open shot, it’s a good shot.”
The Tigers have now won 10 straight games against the Quakers, with the Quakers’ last win coming in February of 2018.
The attention will now turn to the Brown Bears (6–16, 2–5) and the Yale Bulldogs (16–6, 7–0) for Princeton, who will stay at home in Jadwin Gymnasium. The Tigers will play the Bears on Friday night at 7 p.m. The following night, the Tigers will play the Bulldogs on national television, with tipoff at 8 p.m.
The Tigers recently played the Bulldogs in New Haven, Conn. on Friday, Feb. 2. Despite being up by five at halftime, the Tigers could not hold on for the win and dropped the contest. Back at home, the Tigers will need to defend home court and knock off the only remaining undefeated team in the Ivy League.
Henderson added, “I still think we got some more lessons to learn, but we’re figuring out ways to win and we’re not pulling apart.”
Hayk Yengibaryan is an associate Sports editor for the ‘Prince.’
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