Men’s basketball prevails in overtime thriller against Dartmouth
On Saturday afternoon, the Princeton men’s basketball team (14-5 overall, 5-1 Ivy League) recorded a thrilling 93-90 overtime win over the Dartmouth Big Green (7-13, 3-3).
“You have to steal a few games if you want to have a good season, [and] we totally stole that,” head coach Mitch Henderson said in a post-game press conference in ’98.
“I think you win this game once in a hundred times. We were lucky,” added Henderson.
The score remained close throughout the game, and neither team ever had a double-digit lead. For those who watched the two teams go head to head last February when the Tigers beat the Big Green by a score of 85-40, the closeness of this year’s clash might have come as a surprise.
According to Henderson, the stark difference in results suggests a particularly competitive Ivy League field. With that win and loss to Cornell, the Tigers now sit alone at the top of the Ivy League standings. At the same time, all but two Ivy teams have at least three wins in their first six games.
“It feels like the tightest group of teams I’ve ever seen,” Henderson said.
First-year forward Caden Pierce led for Princeton with 17 and 13 career highs, respectively, in both points and rebounds. His play earned him his second Ivy League Rookie of the Week honor of the year.
Pierce’s aggressiveness on offense helped the Tigers take a three-point lead at halftime. He led the squad for the halftime with 10 points on six tries, five of which were from outside the arc.
“I’m building more confidence with every game. My teammates continue to trust me when I pass [a shot] They let me hear it,” Pierce said at the post-game press conference.
“He’s good at things that take a long time to learn,” Henderson said, referring to Pierce’s rebounds and defense.
But Henderson was also pleased with Pierce’s creativity on offense against Dartmouth.
“We want him to try the things that are a little bit more fun and I thought tonight he did. He put the ball down and hit it around the hoop in a really nice way,” Henderson said.
While Big Green led most of the second half, the Tigers stayed within striking distance. A three-pointer from Big Green forward Brandon Mitchell-Day gave Dartmouth a five-point lead with two minutes remaining.
Senior Princeton forward Keeshawn Kellman cut Dartmouth’s lead at the free-throw line to four, leaving 1:10, and on the inbound pass that followed, Pierce chased and stole the ball. He then swung an inside pass to senior striker Tosan Evbuomwan, who found junior guard Matt Allocco on the right wing for an open three-pointer and put the Tigers on one with just 1:04 left to rule.
“The coach always says no matter what the result, we always win the game,” Pierce said. “I just thought I had to step up and do a game on the track to help the team win.”
The Tigers forced a Dartmouth miss on ensuing possession, but when Allocco led the ensuing fast break he was called for an offensive foul.
Big green guard Ryan Cornish then brought the ball up for Dartmouth with 31.4 seconds left and a point clear. Cornish had prevailed with the Tiger defense all game and had a career-high 31 points to lead all goalscorers.
“I believe [Cornish is] a great player,” said Henderson. “We gave him everything we had and he was just easygoing.”
But with the game on the line it was senior captain Ryan Langborg who stole Cornish’s pass and kept the Tigers in the game.
With Langborg leading the Tigers in turns, the ball landed in the hands of Evbuomwan, who committed another offensive foul when he headed for the basket with just 10.4 seconds left.
The Tigers needed one more big play to keep them in the game.
First-year guard Xaivian Lee stole the ensuing inbounds pass, forcing the third straight turnover for the big green.
“We had five or six possessions in the league that gave us a win,” Henderson said. “[Lee’s steal] was one of those pieces.”
Lee then attempted to get the ball to Langborg, but the ball was knocked out of play by a Dartmouth player. The Tigers came on from the sidelines with just 7.5 seconds left. Once again the ball would reach Evbuomwan. This time, however, he pulled a defensive foul on his drive to the basket.
Evbuomwan was awarded two free throws; He missed the first and made the second, forcing the game into overtime, with the teams tied at 76-76.
“It was a crazy ending, there was a lot of energy everywhere,” Kellman said. “There were a number of turnovers and foul calls that could have gone either way, but it allowed us to just keep playing hard and putting some momentum into overtime.”
It was back and forth in overtime, but two free throws by Pierce with 16.3 seconds left gave the Tigers a four-point lead they would drive to the final whistle. Princeton won the game 93-90.
The Tigers will travel to New Haven on Jan. 28 to take on the Yale Bulldogs (13-6, 3-3) with a chance to improve to 6-1 in conference play halfway through the Ivy schedule.
Diego Uribe works in the sports and news department of The Prince. Please direct all correction requests to corrects[at]dailyprincetonian.com.