Princeton had what it wanted: sophomore sharpshooter and Indiana native Devin Cannady launching an open three-pointer from the left wing for a chance to beat Notre Dame in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Thursday at Buffalo’s KeyBank Center.
Cannady’s high-arcing trey rimmed out, though, and the Fighting Irish hung on for a 60-58 victory, ending a remarkable Princeton (23-7, 14-0 Ivy) season that in the regular season culminated in winning the inaugural Ivy League men’s basketball tournament.
Cannady’s miss came following Notre Dame junior guard and Bridgewater, N.J. native Matt Farrell (an 80.8 percent free throw shooter) missing the front end of a 1-and-1 at the other end, giving Princeton the ball and a 59-59 deficit following Spencer Weisz’s defensive rebound.
The Fighting Irish tacked on a point with 0.3 seconds left following Cannady’s game-deciding miss.
Princeton senior guard Steven Cook missed a three-pointer that would have tied the game at 59-59 from the same area on the left wing with 19 seconds left, but a Pete Miller tip-in cut the Irish’s lead to 59-58, leading to Farrell’s front-end miss.
The Tigers trailed 45-34 with 13:49 left following a dunk by Wooden Award finalist Bonzie Colson but clawed back with improved outside shooting and stingy defense, collecting four Notre Dame turnovers in the next 6:14 (despite Notre Dame ranking first in the country in turnover percentage). Princeton also held the discombobulated Irish, including a gimpy Colson (nursing a tweaked ankle), to 1-for-10 shooting from the floor and 15 total points in the final 8:54.
Notre Dame also shot an uncharacteristically mediocre 14-for-21 (66.7 percent) from the free throw line, having entered the game with the highest team free-throw percentage in the nation.
But Princeton could not take full advantage, shooting a paltry 8-for-31 (25.8 percent) from three-point range, including 2-for-18 from Tigers other than seniors Weisz and Cook. Princeton’s offense struggled to convert from deep all game, with Weisz scoring 11 of Princeton’s first 23 points during the Tigers’ first-half cold spell. The Tigers entered the game ranked 31st in the nation in percentage of shots taken from three-point range, and Princeton’s reliance on the long ball hurt Thursday.
Notre Dame held a 36-30 halftime edge, taking the lead from Princeton at the 9:36 of the first half and never trailing again.
Princeton was led by Weisz and his four assists, five rebounds and team-leading 15 points in 40 minutes, as well as Cook’s 11 points and seven boards. Notre Dame was propelled to victory by Colson’s 18 points in 31 minutes and Farrell’s 16 points, including a 3-for-5 clip from deep.
The defeat is Princeton’s first since December 20, snapping a 19-game winning streak that was second-longest in the nation, behind only Vermont.
The Tigers’ loss marks the first defeat for Ivy teams seeded No. 12 in the NCAA Tournament, following Yale’s win over No. 5 Baylor last year and Harvard’s victory over No. 5 Cincinnati in 2014. Ivy League teams are 5-8 in the NCAA Tournament since 2010, with Princeton’s ’17 and ’11 teams and Harvard’s ’15 and ’12 teams the only Ancient Eight squads to lose in the Round of 64.
Princeton’s last NCAA Tournament appearance, in 2011, also ended in a two-point defeat, a 59-57 loss to Kentucky.