The Princeton-Yale series has, more often than not, at least in this century, featured consequential contests. Adding to the mystique of the H-Y-P rivalries, basketball games among these three usually match teams contending for the Ivy League championship.
Last night’s visit to Jadwin by the Bulldogs fit the bill perfectly, bringing together two teams tied atop the standings with 5-1 records in this week’s “Game Of The Year.” I remember writing about a Yale game at Jadwin Gym a few years ago described as “the most intense game I had witnessed in many years.”
The larger than usual crowd filing into the arena last night expected more of that intensity. Adding to the aura of excitement was the much anticipated annual halftime appearance of Red Panda, the San Francisco-based performer who uses her foot to flip cups onto a saucer placed on the top of her head while balanced on an 8-foot unicycle. You have to see it to appreciate it.
Sadly, neither the game nor the halftime exhibition fulfilled the hopes of the partisan Tiger crowd as Yale thrashed Princeton, 88-64.
The Tigers (10-10, 5-2 Ivy) found themselves in an early hole, a disagreeably frequent recent trend. The Bulldog triumvirate of Paul Atkinson, Jordan Bruner and Azar Swain, all of whom are contenders for all All-Ivy honors, got hot right out of the gate, propelling the visitors to a 22-11 lead eight minutes in. The Tigers responded with two three-pointers from Jerome Desrosiers and Ryan Schwieger, to pull within five, 22-17, at the 11:39 mark. Princeton would get no closer for the remainder of the evening.
Yale (18-5, 6-1) ramped up its defensive pressure at that point, completely stifling Tiger scoring efforts in a way we have not seen thus far in Ivy play. Bruner and Atkinson kept the Tigers away from the rim while backcourt speedsters Swain and Eric Monroe denied open looks from anywhere else. The halftime score was 43-25.
The Tiger faithful were now ready to turn their affections to Red Panda, who cycled to center court under a cascade of cheers and applause. Her act is designed to ratchet up the suspense as she flips, first, one cup onto her head. Then, two, and so on up to five in the final supreme test of balance, agility and courage. As you might imagine, each successful effort produces more tension as the degree of difficulty increases. Finally, the ultimate moment arrived as she carefully positioned five cups on her toe. 4,000 onlookers collectively held their breath as she launched the cups into the air. But for the first time at Jadwin, she missed badly, fumbling three of the five cups. It was that kind of night in Princeton.
The Tigers in the second half did even worse than Red Panda. Yale kept the hammer down at both ends, pushing its lead over 30 on several occasions. For the first half of the second period, it appeared that the Tigers might not reach the 40-point mark. Bench players for both teams played much of the final 10 minutes. For Princeton, Ryan Langborg, the freshman from California who was in the starting lineup at the beginning of the year, returned after dealing with a serious medical issue. He appeared in great shape in eight minutes of action. Sophomore Max Johns, the forgotten man for much of the year, made the most of his 14 minutes, scoring seven points and defending well. Freshman Tosan Evbuomwan was the lone Tiger in double figures with 11, a career high.
Five Bulldogs scored at least 12 points, led by Swain’s 23.
Perhaps the high point of the evening came during one of the timeout promotions in the middle of the second half. In this one, a fan is selected at random from the crowd and given the chance to make progressively longer shots for progressively increasing prizes. A layup, then a free throw, then a three-pointer, and then a half-court attempt for $5,000. The wrinkle is that if you make the half court shot, you get a second attempt for $100,000. Sure enough, last night’s contestant swished the half-court shot for $5,000, sending the Tiger coaching staff into a frenzied search for a uniform. Alas, the second attempt missed everything.
The Tigers must now turn their attention to a very dangerous Brown team, which completely dominated Penn in the second half last night in The Palestra. Bruno will be trying to extend its winning streak to six games tonight at 6:00 at Jadwin. It’s another head-to-head matchup between tournament contenders. For the Tigers, a sweep at home could be disastrous as the team begins a four-game road trip next weekend including contests at Harvard, Yale and Brown. At this point in the Ivy season, it looks like four teams are playing for three spots in the tournament and a shot at top-seeded Yale.