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Final road games critical for Princeton's postseason chances

Coming out of its best weekend of the season, the Princeton men’s basketball team looks to build off of last week’s success as the Tigers commence the hunt for joint third in the Ivy League. After a season filled with close losses and disappointment, the Tigers (17-8 overall, 5-6 Ivy League) now have a chance to end the season strongly and put themselves in postseason consideration.

A gritty victory against Yale and a close encounter against Brown certainly have Princeton riding high heading into the final full weekend of play. Perhaps most impressive is that the Tigers were able to hold their opponents to a combined 33 percent field goal percentage over this weekend. After a rough season in terms of points allowed, such a defensive stand is an encouraging sign heading into the last three games.

It does not hurt the Tigers’ shot at a postseason berth that they play two teams against whom they performed quite well earlier in the season. Against both Cornell and Columbia, the Tigers were able to take commanding leads heading into the half. Against Columbia, however, the Tigers succumbed to a recurring issue over the season: execution coming out of halftime. Various offensive miscues and defensive lapses allowed the Lions to gain the momentum right out of the gate, with their comeback culminating in a go-ahead three to which the Tigers could not respond.

Columbia (18-11, 7-5) has quietly been one of the stronger teams in the Ivy League this season, tied with Brown for the third spot in the conference, and still menacing Yale for the No. 2 spot heading into the last few games. The Lions have been fielding one of the stronger defenses in the league, coming in at second in the Ivies for scoring defense. They look to make a statement on their home court after an ugly loss to league-leading Harvard, getting trounced 80-47 in their last game.

Winning in the Big Apple looks to be a tall task. Columbia currently holds the best home record in league, posting a 12-2 record heading into this final weekend. A double-overtime loss against Harvard back on Feb. 14 has been its only home loss of the season in league play. The key for the Tigers will be to continue their defense against the long-range shooters, especially since Columbia’s top two scorers, Alex Rosenberg and Maodo Lo, are shooting above 43 percent from deep on the season.

As usual, the fight for the rebounds could ultimately be the swing in the game. In their last competition against the Tigers, the Lions ravaged the offensive glass, leading to more than a few and-one opportunities that helped get them right back in the game. It cannot be overlooked that against Harvard, Columbia failed to get the same kind of traction. While the lower rebounding numbers could be due to the fact that the Harvard-Columbia contest was a faster-paced, high-octane game, the point still remains that establishing themselves down low will be key for the Tigers, especially since Columbia does not have a particularly threatening interior presence.

Unlike its downstate counterpart, Cornell has completely lacked success in any way all season, both in interconference and Iv y League play. A far cry from the team that took March Madness by storm back in 2010, the Big Red (2-24, 1-11) limp into the final weekend of the season, hoping to avoid holding the worst record in school history. Currently on a five-game losing streak, the Big Red is ranked dead last in the Ivy League in most statistical categories, including points scored, points allowed, field goal percentage and rebounding.

The Tigers, like the rest of the Ivy League, made easy work of the Big Red in their last matchup, winning 69-48 at Jadwin back in February. Cornell’s only chance for victory seems to lie on the shoulders of forward Nolan Cressler, the team’s leading scorer. After an explosive scoring performance against Brown two weeks ago, he has been unable to find his shot, averaging only 8.5 points on 38 percent shooting this past weekend. Such a performance does not bode well against a Princeton team that has been locked in defensively and has a lot on the line.

The Tigers have come back excellently in the final stage of their season after such a disappointing start to league play in February. The time has come to see whether, after an arduous season, the Tigers can muster up the strength to extend their season just a little bit more.

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