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

Tigers tripped up by Runnin’ Rebs: Historic season comes to a close for men's basketball

Seven men in white jerseys face away from camera towards their team.
Members of the Princeton bench huddle during a timeout against in Wednesday’s loss to UNLV.
Photo courtesy of @PrincetonMBB/X

As the clock struck zero under the bright lights of Levien Gymnasium on March 16, men’s basketball had a chance to reflect.

Following their 90–81 upset loss in the Ivy Madness semifinal, closing their best path to the NCAA tournament, the mood in the Tigers’ locker room was understandably down. The loss meant their ticket was punched to a different tournament — the National Invitation Tournament (NIT), an opportunity for division I teams who just missed the March Madness cut to extend their seasons to the postseason. While they wouldn’t experience the same screaming highs of a March long past, they could at least have some semblance of a postseason experience within the NIT.


And yet, on Wednesday, the No. 2-seeded Tigers’ (24–5 overall, 12–2 Ivy League) season came to a solemn close in an 84–77 loss to the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) Runnin’ Rebels (20–12 overall, 12–6 Mountain West) in the first round of the tournament.

Sophomore forward and Ivy League Player of the Year Caden Pierce led the way for the Tigers with 22 points on 10-for-16 shooting. Senior forward Zach Martini followed close behind with 17, including five baskets from beyond the arc.

Junior guard Blake Peters started things off with a deep three-pointer immediately following the tip, but Rebels senior guard Justin Webster fired back with a triple of his own.

The Tigers had difficulty containing the Rebels’ offense throughout the first half. A 13–3 run, which included five points from forward Keylan Boone, saw UNLV take a 16–9 lead just over five minutes into the contest. Boone would continue to cause problems for the Tigers — he finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds, hitting two of his five attempts from the perimeter.

Despite the early deficit, the Tigers kept things close as the game progressed. Coming out of a timeout at the 12:34 mark, a strong drive through the lane and a finish from Pierce put Princeton within four at 18–14. Following the bucket, first-year guard Jackson Hicke put back his own miss, which then gave sophomore guard Jack Scott a chance to knot the game at 18 with a layup of his own midway into the half.

The lead continued to bounce between the two teams. A pair of Martini three-pointers gave Princeton a three-point edge at 23–20, and a Pierce steal that led to a coast-to-coast slam dunk made it five at 28–23 with just under seven minutes to go in the first.


With Peters as the only junior who has played significant minutes, Pierce — along with sophomore guard Xaivian Lee — are poised to step up as leaders for Princeton next season. As Henderson noted postgame, “[the Tigers] are going to be really different next year.”

As the first half drew to a close, Boone and Pierce traded blow after blow to keep their teams in the game. In the next three-minute stretch, the two had four and six points, respectively. The Tigers came out on top, as senior guard Matt Allocco added four points of his own to give the Tigers their largest lead of the game — 38–32 — with just over two minutes until the half.

Final Rebel layups from Webster and forward Rob Whaley Jr. cut the Tigers’ lead with less than a minute left. The Tigers waded into the second half with a 38–36 advantage.

In the second, the Rebels were sure to not let the Tigers extend their lead. Immediately following the break, the Rebels evened the score 38–38 with a layup.

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

They then turned up the pressure, as following a Pierce layup, the Rebels hit a three to take their first lead since halfway through the first half. Princeton struggled to hang on as the Rebels slowly began to overwhelm them and their speed of play proved too much for the Tigers.

The ever-reliable Allocco managed to hit a three from deep to cut the Rebel lead, but the visitors responded with an 8–0 run to extend their lead into double digits at 57–46 with 12:05 left in the contest. 

Throughout the second half, the momentum was not with the Tigers. Several small runs saw them claw back some points and cut the lead, but it was never enough to get them back into it. Princeton got within four following a Pierce layup, but another Rebel 9–0 run quickly sunk any Tigers’ hopes.

“We just didn’t have it — that team is kryptonite for us,” Henderson told the Daily Princetonian. “They were playing with missiles, and we were playing with sticks.”

This was characteristic of the rest of the game, as the Tigers kept on getting within a few points before being unable to sustain a game-saving run. With 1:41 to go, Lee hit a free throw to make the score 73–68 and give the Tigers a last chance, but the Rebels sealed the affair with three free throws to dash any lingering hope of a Princeton comeback.

With five seconds to go, two more Rebel free throws ended the Tigers’ season with an 84–77 home loss — their first of the season. 

Huge victories against Yale and Cornell had the Tigers looking unstoppable on their way to postseason success, but all hopes were dashed after a disappointing collapse to Brown. On the court, the Tigers’ squad seemed to lack the motivation to win this NIT matchup, and the Orange and Black ultimately failed to seal the deal.

In his first comments to the ‘Prince,’ however, Henderson was quick to recognize two key players who the team will miss next season — Matt Allocco and Zach Martini.

“When I got into coaching, you just wish you could have guys like this in your program,” Henderson said to the ‘Prince’ about Allocco and Martini. “What a gift it is to coach those guys.” 

Nevertheless, Henderson was still optimistic about the season and proud of his team.

“We were punching above our weight all season … we lost some juice there at the end, but that doesn’t take away from what this group is and does. It’s unbelievable.”

With dominant talent in the Class of 2026, another Ivy League Championship this season, and a strong recruiting class, the Tigers will have everything to play for when next season comes around.

Alex Beverton-Smith is an assistant Sports editor for the ‘Prince.’

Yousif Mohamed is a senior Sports writer at the ‘Prince.’ 

Please send corrections to corrections[at]