Princeton ekes past Dartmouth, bows to Harvard

With a record of 7-3, the Tigers headed to New England for the Dartmouth-Harvard trip needing a win on the weekend to punch its ticket to Ivy Madness. The fact that the Tigers’ record against their four remaining opponents contained all three of those losses and only one of the wins was a matter of grave concern to the Tiger staff. The lone win was a 69-68 nail-biter in Jadwin against the Friday foe, Dartmouth’s Big Green.

The staff itself suffered an unexpected loss when its head coach was unable to answer the bell in Hanover. Mitch Henderson was forced to scurry from the floor just prior to tip-off, suffering from what we shall describe as “flu-like symptoms.”

Perhaps distracted by the plight of their skipper, the Tigers struggled out of the gate. The tenacious Big Green always seem to punch above their weight against their foes from New Jersey. Held scoreless from beyond the arc the Princeton offense could manage a paltry 19 first-half points. The defense was doing another fine job, limiting Dartmouth to 26 and achieving a seven-point lead at the break.

Two years ago in Hanover, Dartmouth was the only Ivy team to claim a lead against the Tigers at the end of the first half. Brett MacConnell, running the team in Henderson’s absence, was hoping for another comeback in his head coaching debut.

The Tigers returned  to the floor determined to restore order. They did with a furious 13-3 spurt in three minutes. Neither team could gain any serious momentum over the next 15 minutes plus. Princeton pushed the lead to 60-52 with a minute and a half remaining. The Big Green managed a spurt of their own going on an 8-0 run to close the regulation part of the game. The rally was capped by a stunning James Foye three-pointer with two seconds left. The Foye dagger sent the Tigers to overtime for the third time in the 2019 Ivy campaign.

For the third time, the Tigers prevailed but it was anything but easy. Jaelin Llewellyn scored the first five of the Tigers’ 17 points in the extra session to 16 for the Big Green. Ryan Schwieger’s career high 23, including 11-for-11 from the free throw line, several in overtime, was high for the Tigers. Stalwart senior Myles Stephens continued his season of workhorse efforts, adding 19 points and excelling on defense. Llewellyn’s 17 was a big help. The Tigers scored 58 points in the second half and overtime, including all seven of their three-pointers in 15 attempts. MacConnell’s career record stands at 1-0.

Harvard’s win over Penn set up a match of teams tied at 8-3 and each with a shot at the No. 1 seed.

Princeton arrived at Lavietes Pavilion relieved that Henderson appeared fully recovered.

Once again the Tiger offense sputtered at the start. The defense, however, was superb. Both teams pursued each other relentlessly, resulting in a low-scoring street fight in the opening 20 minutes of play. The Crimson held the Tigers scoreless in the final 4:40, and headed to the locker room holding a 23-22 advantage at intermission.

Princeton’s scoring woes continued in the early going of the second half. A decisive 9-0 Harvard run ran the lead to 32-24. Thanks largely to the heroics of Stephens, the Tigers kept things interesting into the final three minutes. The Tigers crept within four but could get no closer. Stephens canned 21 and played his usual outstanding defense. He and Brown’s Obi Okolie are prime candidates for Ivy Defensive Player of the Year and will face each other in what may be a decisive matchup at Jadwin on Friday.

Richmond Aririguzoh played his best game in two weeks, scoring 12 points while grabbing eight rebounds, mostly in the second half. He largely contained the Crimson’s great Chris Lewis for the second time this season. The Crimson did a fine job on the hot-shooting Schwieger, limiting him to 10 points, his lowest output in four games.

The Tigers committed a ghastly 15 turnovers, many resulting in Harvard scores. The Crimson also benefited from a 15-5 edge in second chance points. The final score was 66-58.

Yale’s loss at home to Columbia, perhaps not all that surprising in view of the Lions recent resurgence, puts Harvard in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 seed at New Haven.

Regardless of the seeding, it is likely that the Tigers will need to defeat Harvard and Yale (both 9-3 in Ivy play) on successive nights to claim the tournament title. It is a challenge the Tigers relish.

Meanwhile, the identity of the fourth seed will not be determined until the final weekend. Princeton has a huge role to play in the dizzying array of tiebreakers. Brown and Yale visit Jadwin on Mar. 8 and 9, the latter affair on Senior Night.

The Friday contest tips off at the unusual time of 4 p.m., evidently a function of the league’s burgeoning relationship with ESPN.

3 thoughts on “Princeton ekes past Dartmouth, bows to Harvard”

  1. Dartmouth’s stunning comeback in regulation, capped by the 3-pointer to tie with less than 2 seconds remaining, raises the classic question of whether Princeton should have fouled. Count me among those who say yes. Coach MacConnell, in his head coaching debut, had to make a tough decision. Obviously, he decided NOT to foul and allow Dartmouth to attempt a contested three (although J. Llewellyn could have closed out better on Foye in my opinion). In making the decision not to foul, I’m sure Coach MacConnell took into account the risk that his player might foul the shooter in the act. Another risk is that the player sent to the line makes the first foul shot, then misses the second deliberately allowing an opportunity for an offensive rebound and put back. (That very scenario played out at the end of OT, although the Tigers survived it). My sense is that for a well-coached team like Princeton, the above-stated risks are out-weighed by the probability that your opponent will can the three if given the opportunity. In this case, you have an opponent, Dartmouth, that is renown for 3-point shooting this season. And they are playing at home. In my mind, you foul in that situation.

    Beyond my disagreement with the decision not to foul, I thought Coach MacConnell did a brilliant and heroic job of coaching his team to yet another hard fought road victory. Who knew “next man up” also included the coaches! The Tigers are now 3-0 in OT games this season, a reflection of their grit. Last year, the Tigers were dropping close games like this one. The coaches deserve a lot of credit for instilling a fighting spirit in this team. Princeton has faced a lot of adversity this year yet still has a chance to win a League title heading into the final weekend. Go Tigers!

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  2. Very astute analysis, as usual Steve. I might concede a two in that situation. I thought JL made a good effort but Foye made a better play. What a shot! We really need a sweep to stay out of 4th and need to beat Yale at our place to prove that we can.

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  3. Brett MacConnell was asked about the decision not to foul on the Mitch Henderson radio show a couple of days ago. To be frank, I was disappointed by his answer. He mostly dodged, simply conceding that there are many factors to be considered in making such a decision. He seemed to emphasize the factor of how adept the other team is at making three pointers. Exactly! Dartmouth is the top 3-point shooting team in the League; doesn’t that strongly augur in favor of fouling?

    George, I agree with you that it’s important for Princeton to beat Yale this weekend. For that matter, I think it’s important for Princeton to beat Brown on Friday afternoon. Right now, the Tigers are 0-4 against the teams in the top half of the standings. (On the other hand, the Tigers are 8-0 against the bottom 4 teams in the League). Princeton needs to establish some momentum in these final two games and prove that it belongs among the top tier teams in the League.

    Moreover, Princeton still has a decent shot at tying for the all-important League regular season title. Of course, the Tigers no longer control their own destiny in that regard. They will need to sweep their home stand this weekend against Brown and Yale and then hope that either Cornell or Columbia (or both!) can topple Harvard. The latter is not so unthinkable. Cornell has already beaten Harvard this year and Columbia seems capable of beating anyone right now. However, I have a sinking feeling that the worst of all possible outcomes is the one that may actually occur: Harvard winning an outright League title.

    As the sun begins to set on another exciting Ivy League season, it’s worth remembering that the one cause that unites all Ivy fans (outside of Cambridge) is the need to prevent Horrible Harvard (HH) from winning a title. Last year, Penn lost its singular hold on the Ivy League when it dropped a game to Yale in the final weekend of the regular season, thereby allowing HH to claim a share of the League title. This year, Yale may have done the same thing on the penultimate weekend. I can live with Princeton not winning the League; I can even live with Penn (or Yale) winning the League. But HH winning the League is unthinkable. Let’s go, Columbia and Cornell. Do your duty!

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