After the weekend it had, the men’s basketball team must be wishing the Ivy League had a playoff system. Princeton (17-8 overall, 5-6 Ivy League) defeated Yale 57-46 Friday night before holding off Brown 69-64 on Saturday. The win over No. 2 Yale (15-11, 9-3) ensured that Harvard would earn at least a share of its fourth-straight Ivy League title, while the defeat of Brown (15-11, 7-5) pulled the Tigers within spitting distance of third place.
“Getting to 20 wins would be nice, but we’ve still got three tough games left,” senior forward Will Barrett said after the Brown game, his first double-digit performance in two weeks.
“I’m happy to get two wins this weekend, and I hope we keep it going,” head coach Mitch Henderson ’98 said.
The win over a strong Yale squad was especially impressive because Princeton was finally able to play well the entire second half. The score at the break was 27-26 in favor of the Tigers, despite the fact them having been outshot by six percentage points. The team’s shooting actually worsened in the latter half, but playing their best defensive half of the year more than offset it. Princeton kept Yale to an ice-cold 20.7 percent shooting in the second half and kept Justin Sears to three points after he exploded for 19 in the opening period. Senior guard and captain T.J. Bray scored 12 of his 19 points after the break, as the team used a late 10-0 run to put away the Bulldogs. Freshman guard Spencer Weisz had an outstanding night, with 14 points and team highs of seven rebounds and three assists.
The team picked up where it left off against Brown the next night, twice achieving a 15-point lead in the first half before heading to the locker room with a 41-30 advantage. Princeton finally rediscovered its shooting stroke streak after making fewer than 40 percent of its shots each of the last four games. The Tigers made seven of 14 from distance, a throwback to the early season version of this team that hit at least 40 percent of its three-pointers in half of its first 10 games en route to a 9-1 record. Princeton would go on to achieve that threshold for the first time in its last 15 games with a nine-for-21 performance. Eleven points was the same halftime lead the Tigers held against Yale two weekends ago, before choking and losing in overtime. The second half fade was still present, but this time, the Tigers closed it out strong as they did several times in November and December. Making about a quarter of its shots, Princeton allowed Brown to claim a 61-60 lead with five minutes left. But six made free throws down the stretch and zero made shots from the Bears gave Princeton the five point win. Bray led the team with 21 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Bray is now 69 points short of the vaunted 1,000 career points mark with three games left. Weisz continued his string of solid performances with 13 points and five rebounds. The duo was rewarded for their performances with a sweep of the Ivy League player and rookie of the week awards.
“I don’t usually believe in luck, but it’s about time for us to get some of those bounces,” Henderson said in reference to the last few plays of the game.
Princeton heads to New York next weekend to take on Cornell and Columbia. If the Tigers win out and Harvard handles Brown on the road, Princeton will find itself in a three-way tie for No. 3 in the league with a winning conference record.
Women trounce Yale, lose to bottom-feeding Brown
A week after earning sole possession of first place in the Ivy League standings, Princeton suffered its own bewildering defeat at the hands of then-last-place Brown. The 61-58 loss is the first in five years to an Ancient Eight team not called Harvard. The Tigers (18-7 overall, 9-2 Ivy League) comfortably defeated Yale 85-63 on Friday in New Haven, before turning in their worst shooting performance of the season on Saturday in Providence.
“It’s remarkable that we still control our own destiny. It shows how hard we’ve played all season long,” head coach Courtney Banghart said. “Four [games] on the road in a row is tough, but if we get better over the next week, then we’ll be playing for an Ivy title.”
Princeton rode its momentum from the previous weekend into the first half against Yale. The Tigers simply could not be stopped, shooting 67.9 percent from the field, while holding Yale to a pitiful 25.7 percent. The halftime score was 48-26, as Princeton was on pace to equal its season-high scoring output and best its 41-point margin of victory set last week at Dartmouth. The advantage got all the way up to 35 with just under nine minutes to play, before a Yale rally brought it back to 22 at the end. It might not have meant much with the game already decided, but the slide rolled over into the next night’s contest. Princeton outshot Yale by 18 percent in the second half, but 15 offensive rebounds from the Bulldogs and 11 more free throws resulted in the teams tying at 37 apiece after the break. Five Tigers reached double-digit scoring figures, led by senior forward and captain Kristen Helmstetter’s 17. She and sophomore forward Taylor Williams led the team with seven rebounds apiece, and junior guard Blake Dietrick contributed six assists and two steals.
“The kids were really dialed in — they took away the transition game and played aggressively with the ball,” said Banghart. “This is a tough team to play on the road, and they played hard.”
The last time Princeton faced Brown, the Bears scored four more points than the Tigers in the second half. Though insignificant at the time, it may have provided the spark Brown needed to come out fighting in this contest. The Bears led 35-27 at the half after making two-thirds of their shots, including six three-pointers. Princeton’s shooting went from bad to worse in the second half, as it made just 29.4 percent of its shots. The Tigers made up for it by hauling in 15 offensive rebounds and snatching a huge season-high of 15 steals. They actually held a 46-42 advantage with 10 minutes left, at which point the game seemed safely under control. But guard Lauren Clarke scored 10 of her game-high 24 points down the stretch, while Princeton missed three shots from behind the arc on the same possession to end the game. Helmstetter again led the team with 20 points and eight rebounds, and although Dietrick put up 13, it came with a price tag of 19 shots taken from the field.
“It was a frustrating game for us on both ends,” Banghart said. “They have two really good players that combined for 39 points. Offensively, we didn’t get enough production — our post players were absent and we didn’t get our usual production from our wings.”
Banghart did, however, reserve some praise for her captain’s performances in both games.
“Kristen played her heart out. She played a lot of minutes this weekend and played like a senior during them. Not enough people around her brought their game,” Banghart said.
Next up for the Tigers are games against Cornell and Columbia on Friday and Saturday. The Big Red is a distant fourth place in the standings with a .500 league record, while the Lions are tied for sixth with a 3-9 record. Assuming neither Princeton nor Penn slips up this weekend, the two teams will face each other a week from today in a winner-take-all regular season finale that will function as a playoff game. This contest at Jadwin Gymnasium will be one fans will not want to miss.