Follow us on Instagram
Try our daily mini crossword
Play our latest news quiz
Download our new app on iOS/Android!

March Madness hopes smashed after Brown defeats Princeton in historic upset

Several Princeton basketball players, wearing orange and white, huddle at the center of the court. In the background, there is a scoreboard and blue/light blue wall, and to the right is a Brown player wearing a brown and red jersey.
Princeton’s starting squad huddles in the final moments of their loss against Brown.
Photo courtesy of @PrincetonMBB / X

NEW YORK, NY — One year ago today, under the bright lights of the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, Calif., the Princeton Tigers had achieved the impossible by taking down Arizona in a massive upset that began their Cinderella run to the Sweet 16. The Princeton community — and the country — took notice. Princeton basketball became a national name.

One trip around the sun later, with all eyes on the Tigers, the Princeton faithful quietly filed out of Levien Gymnasium at Columbia University. The narrative had flipped. This year’s No. 1 seeded Princeton Tigers (24–4 overall, 12–3 Ivy League) found themselves at the wrong end of a historic, season-ending upset against the No. 4 seeded Brown Bears (13–17, 9–6).


Despite being heavily favored with an 89.6 percent win probability, according to ESPN Analytics pregame, the Princeton Tigers travel back to the Garden State empty-handed. For a team that began its season with a 9–0 run — their best start in over two decades — the loss serves as a somber conclusion for this year’s Tiger squad.

The loss proved to be nothing short of historic. For the first time in Ivy League tournament history, a No. 4 seed has taken down a No. 1 seed. In a 90–81 loss characterized by a Brown rampage in the first 30 minutes, the disappearance of Princeton’s star sophomores, and an attempt at a comeback led by first-year guard Dalen Davis, the Princeton Tigers’ hopes for back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances — which would be their first since 1998 — have been dashed.

The Tigers started hot off the tipoff, with junior guard Blake Peters immediately hitting a fading three. Brown tightened up defensively and took the lead off of a pair of free throws and a mid-range jumper, but sophomore guard Xaivian Lee retook the lead with a deep logo three. 

Senior guard Matt Allocco and senior forward Zach Martini kept the hot shooting going with threes of their own, but Brown kept up offensively by making five of their first eight shots as they retook a 14–12 lead on a dunk from forward Nana Owusu-Anane.

“We knew that we kind of had a size advantage on them,” Owusu-Anane said postgame. “So, we wanted to just serve ourselves on the inside.”

Martini would break the 7–0 run that followed with an open layup, and after each side finished strong drives, Brown headed into a timeout at the 7-minute mark with a 28–23 lead.


Princeton’s defense then started to melt down and had no answer for Brown’s aggressive play, allowing them to open up a substantial lead that they never lost. They allowed guard Kino Lilly Jr. and Owusu-Anane to score on seven straight possessions while going cold offensively and called yet another timeout down 41–27. 

While Brown’s run stretched their lead into double digits, Princeton continued to struggle to find their footing in the paint, forcing shots from three in an attempt to close the gap. Beyond the arc, the Tigers’ three-point-focused strategy failed to pay off, as they shot just 31.6 percent from three in the first half compared to Brown’s 45.5 percent. 

Princeton burned through most of their timeouts before the break in attempts to regroup, leaving them just one for the second half. Though Pierce scored twice at the rim in the final moments of the first half, the Tigers entered the locker room facing a 13-point deficit at 44-31. 

“All we want to do is come out, make the first punch, and keep going from there,” Brown head coach Mike Martin said postgame. The defensive meltdown, and the Brown rampage it enabled, were ultimately the Tigers’ downfall, as they failed to close the massive gap until it was too late. 

Get the best of ‘the Prince’ delivered straight to your inbox. Subscribe now »

Brown’s run was fueled by hot shooting — starting 55 percent from the field in the first half — finding open shot after open shot against Princeton’s defense. 

Pre-game, head coach Mitch Henderson ’98 said, “It is important that we take care of the ball, and I trust that we will.” But at the half, Princeton had six turnovers to Brown’s three, a surprising turn of events since Brown had nearly double Princeton’s count during the regular season. 

“We were number one in the country in not turning the ball over. And we turned the ball over a lot and it made things really hard,” Henderson noted in a postgame presser. 

Princeton has been a second-half team this season and has made multiple comebacks after the break, but the lead Brown amassed proved too tall a hill to climb. 

“I thought we could gather ourselves in the second half and then they got to 18 quickly and then it was 22,” Henderson said. “We have not been down like that.”

Straight out of the half, the Tigers’ defense continued to struggle and gave up three straight layups while only getting one back to go down by 17, forcing Henderson into yet another timeout. 

The timeout failed to help defensively as the Tigers gave up another Lilly Jr. three and an open layup right after. Switching into a 1-3-1 zone defense helped the Tigers get some stops and Lee finally found his way to the rim again for a layup, but Brown hadstretched its lead to over 20 points, with the scoreline standing at 55–35 by the first media timeout. 

Lee was nowhere to be found throughout the game, finishing with just six points on 25 percent shooting. This made for his lowest-scoring game in 2024 and his worst performance in any Ivy matchup this season.

Pierce, who was awarded Ivy League Player of the Year this week, also struggled to shine, dropping 19 points across the game but committing seven costly turnovers that led to Brown fast-break points.

The ball pressure of the 1-3-1 zone started to slow down Brown, but Princeton could not get into any sort of offensive rhythm and missed contested three after contested three. The Tigers notched just two points from 16.5 minutes to 12.5 minutes remaining. 

In the final ten minutes of the second half, the Tigers began to chip away at Brown’s lead, with a pair of drives from Allocco and Davis finding the basket. Davis continued to step up for Princeton, scoring a driving layup with a foul to cut the lead to 16, converting on a drive, and making another and-one shot to narrow the game to 13 with 6:19 remaining.

The Bears started to live at the free-throw line as any contact against Princeton was called, but Davis scored one of two free throws on their next possession. A rare Lilly Jr. miss led to the first-year making another floater to cut the Brown lead to nine. Davis fed Pierce an open layup after another Brown turnover to bring it to just seven with 4:28 remaining, the closest since the first half. 

“He saved us and put us on his back,” Henderson said on Davis after the game. “As a freshman, he looked like a senior.” 

Davis would finish the game with a team-high 21 points and a +9 plus/minus (point differential while on the court), an extremely high mark for a nine-point loss. Davis’s performance on the court elevated him past his position as the Tigers’ sixth man, outplaying the starters and keeping the Tigers’ hopes alive in the second half.

As the clock continued to tick down, Princeton amped up the aggressiveness once again with a full-court press. At times it allowed Brown to get out in transition for easy layups, but it also created the Brown turnovers that kept them in the game. Brown exploited it for six more points, but Allocco and Pierce hit big threes to keep it close.

At 83–74, Pierce muscled his way for another layup followed by a steal, feeding Peters a layup to bring it to five. After a Brown free throw on the other end, Allocco drilled a clutch pull-up three to bring the score to 84–81 and the Princeton faithful to their feet. 

“Matt Allocco is one of the toughest competitors I’ve ever coached against,” added Martin after the game. The senior would finish with 20 points, but it wouldn’t be enough.

With 44 seconds on the clock, one defensive stop and a three could have given them the opportunity to tie the game. However, Princeton continued their hard press rather than getting back and trying to get a stop, with sophomore guard Jack Scott almost immediately committing a foul that let Lilly Jr. hit two free throws.

The Tigers took the ball for one final chance down five with 38 seconds remaining. As Pierce drove to the basket and looked to bring it back within one possession, he lost his handle and turned it over. Brown guard, AJ Lesburt Jr., then took it back the other way for a layup to ice it. Fittingly, Lilly Jr. closed the game with a pair of free throws to give Brown the 90–81 upset win.

Princeton’s downfall was fueled by failing to stay true to what had brought them so much success — making shots. A team that prides itself on good shooting and shot selection shot only 9 for 35 from three and often took desperate, contested jumpers against the Brown defense. 

They also failed on two key factors to slow the Bears: containing star guard Kino Lilly Jr. and taking care of the ball. Lilly Jr. finished with 27 points and 10 assists, while typically-rare Princeton turnovers came in bunches and let Brown build their significant lead in the first half.

Projected to be just outside the range of at-large bids before the game and favored to win the Ivy tournament, a win would have kept Princeton’s tournament dream alive, but a loss to a Brown team that sits all the way back at No. 193 in the NET rankings almost certainly pushes the Tigers out of NCAA tournament consideration. The Bears will move on to the Ivy championship tomorrow against Yale. 

“We went down. We had a hell of a team. So I hope this doesn’t take away from them,” Henderson concluded.

Tate Hutchins is an associate Sports editor for the ‘Prince.’

Please send any corrections to corrections[at]