Princeton upsets USC, 103-93, in overtime for biggest Ivy nonconference win of the season so far

The Tigers’ opponent was the preseason top 10 Trojans of Southern California, playing what the Los Angeles Times suggested was a tuneup game. The Tigers may have been offended by this evident lack of respect.

In any event, they responded with their best showing to date, dealing the Trojans a 103-93 beating in overtime. While the #2bidivy movement may not be relevant this season, the Tigers’ performance Tuesday night (and Wednesday morning Eastern Time) at Southern Cal shows why a second NCAA Tournament bid is inevitable.

The Tigers were in control for much of the second half after trailing by three at the end of the first period, 36-33. With under a minute to go in regulation, Princeton still held an 81-74 lead. Trading free throws for threes, the Trojans pulled within two with five seconds to go. A costly Tigers turnover on the inbounds pass resulted in a Trojans lay-in to tie the game at 86-86 at the end of regulation. Frankly, at that point, it looked like the visitors had run out of ammo.

But it was the Trojans who were out of gas. Trailing in overtime, 91-90, the Tigers went on a 9-0 run over a two-minute stretch. And this time, the Tigers refused to fold, closing out a very 103-93 victory.

The keys to this win start with the big three. Myles Stephens had the kind of game that will have professional scouts drooling. Last year’s Ivy Defensive Player of the Year had a career-high 30 points, including a perfect 8-for-8 from the charity stripe. He also had a career-high nine rebounds while playing 44 minutes. Devin Cannady had 23 points and another nine rebounds, playing all 45 minutes of action. Rounding out the big three, Amir Bell had nine assists and five steals, playing the kind of floor game that coach Mitch Henderson expects from his point guard – and which he usually gets. You can’t overlook Bell’s 18 points in 43 minutes. In all, the big three scored a remarkable 71 points.

Freshman Sebastian Much clearly enjoys playing in his home state of California. Much is improving by leaps and bounds every night. Against the Trojans, Henderson kept Much on the floor for 41 minutes. Much responded with a 5-for-9 clip from beyond the arc, breaking his career mark of four three-pointers set a few days earlier at Cal Poly. His 19 points was also a career high. The last time the Tigers scored 100 points was at home two years ago against an overmatched Lafayette squad. But a 103-point explosion on the road against a big-time PAC-12 program is unprecedented for the Ivies.

It should be noted that the Tigers outrebounded their bigger and stronger west coast opponents, a statistic as impressive as their 51 percent shooting performance.

The Tigers now head out to Honolulu for the Diamond Head Classic, where they will meet Middle Tennessee State on Friday at 5:30 p.m., a game you can see on ESPNU. Former opponents Miami and these same Trojans are also in that field. It promises to be an exciting Christmas week of action for the Tigers. They will play on Friday, Saturday and then again on Christmas Day.

4 thoughts on “Princeton upsets USC, 103-93, in overtime for biggest Ivy nonconference win of the season so far”

  1. I had the great fortune of attending this game in person and was rewarded with one of the very best performances by a Princeton team that I have ever seen (and I have seen quite a great many). There are so many positives to take away from this game, it’s hard to know where to start. I know, how about rebounding? Two weeks ago, I witnessed this same squad lose a winnable game at George Washington when the visitors simply could not secure a defensive rebound. Coach Henderson knew he had to fix this problem in order to have a chance of taking down USC, and his team responded heroically, denying USC virtually any second chances. Second, Sebastian Much enjoyed a coming out party at the Galen Center, hitting several big threes, including a moon shot, desperation heave at the end of the shot clock in the second half that swished through the hoop and left everyone in the crowd thinking that it just wasn’t meant to be for the home team. Third, I just loved the way the team responded to adversity in this game. Although Princeton dominated the first and third quarters, USC predictably responded with big runs in the second and fourth quarters, and it certainly felt at multiple times like the bigger, stronger Trojans would finally put the Tigers away. But our guys simply would not yield. They responded over and over again with huge plays, including a couple of key offensive putbacks. Jerome Desrosiers’ tap in at the buzzer of the first half stands out as the kind of play that signaled a Princeton victory. Other things I noticed included big contributions off the bench from several players, including Aaron Young, who hit a huge 3 late in the game, and fantastic substituting by Coach Henderson to make sure he had the right matchups against the tall and athletic Trojans. Also, there was a lot of clutch free throw shooting down the stretch for the Tigers.

    If the Cal Poly and Monmouth games showed us that Princeton is gelling, this game shows that the gel has now cemented and this team is going to be really tough once Ivy play begins. Finally, this game vindicates Coach Henderson’s decision to schedule a slate of really tough opponents early in the season. We took some lumps during this process, but there can be no doubt now that Mitch’s strategy has paid off. Hats off to everyone involved in this great win, including every player on the team, the coaching staff, trainers, etc. This was a signature win for Princeton and I know that everyone involved, particularly the players, will remember it for the rest of their lives.

  2. There is a good chance that we shall see USC again … soon. It is perhaps too much to assume that we would prevail again. But, if we can make the possible rematch a close, and potentially winnable game, we shall have demonstrated that the team has made irreversible and significant improvement as the Ivy race approaches.

  3. The USC community is claiming that injuries and other issues are part of the reason that USC lost on Tuesday night to an Ivy League team. This ignores the fact that Princeton, too, is coping with injuries to a couple of important players. For example, Will Gladsen continues to be side-lined by an injury and I’m quite certain that Coach Henderson would have liked to have been able to use Will’s size to help the Tigers cope with USC’s inside game. Also, its hard to feel too bad for the Trojans over the loss of sophomore De’Anthony Melton, who apparently lost his eligibility for the entire season due to a bribery scandal that already cost one USC assistant coach his job.

  4. Steve, your comment made me think that “losing to an Ivy League team” might be a bigger blow to USC than “beating a Pac 12 team” is a lift for the Tigers. I hope the Trojans get a shot at revenge tomorrow.

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