No. 1 Princeton wears down No. 2 Penn in fourth quarter, wins Ivy League Tournament final, 65-54

In a tight game between the regular season co-champions that featured 10 lead changes and six ties, Princeton’s stars took control down the stretch to defeat Penn and win the Tigers’ second consecutive Ivy League Tournament title Sunday.

With the victory, the Tigers (22-9) secured the Ancient Eight’s automatic bid and await their opponent for the NCAA Tournament on Monday night’s selection show.  Penn (23-6), meanwhile, will have to wait and see if it can secure the Ivy League’s second-ever at-large bid or be chosen for a second straight WNIT appearance.

Things looked good for the Quakers early, as they used a 14-2 second-quarter run to turn a 23-17 deficit into a 31-25 advantage with 1:10 to go in the half.  But as good as things were for the Red & Blue, they would regret how they managed that last minute.

Ashley Russell came down court and threw a long pass out of bounds with 50 seconds left.  On the next possession, Bella Alarie hit a midrange jumper over Eleah Parker with 35 seconds remaining.  With 10 seconds left, Princess Aghayere hit a layup but it was called off when she charged into Grace Stone.  Gabrielle Rush then sank a three at the buzzer from the right key to make give the Tigers much-needed momentum heading into the second half.

After 20 minutes, the Quakers were shooting well with 50 percent from two, 33 percent (2-for-6) from three and 83 percent (5-for-6) from the line.  Russell and Parker ended the half with 11 and 8 points,  respectively, on a combined 7-for-17 shooting (41 percent).  The Tigers ended the half hitting 44 percent from two and three (4-for-9) with a 50 percent (2-for-4) mark from the line.  Alarie led all scorers with 17 points and Rush three of five three-pointers for nine points.

While only down one, the team’s biggest concern was that Carlie Littlefield was held scoreless, one day after the first-team All-Ivy guard and the team’s second-leading scorer was held to only four points in Saturday night’s blowout victory over Cornell.

With Princeton starting forward Sydney Jordan committing her fourth foul four minutes into the quarter, Penn stopped the Tigers’ momentum and finished the period up 47-44.  While the team appeared to dodge a bullet, there were signs of trouble.  First, the Tigers only shot 5-for-12 from the field and Penn outrebounded Princeton with seven offensive boards, but could only manage to increase their lead by two points.  This was mainly due to Penn shooting only 37 percent (7-for-19) from the field with Parker sinking only one of eight attempts.  Second, Littlefield hit her first basket of the game at the 2:35 mark and finished the quarter with five points.

Although Penn routed Harvard by 29 points on Saturday night, Penn’s semifinal, which ended around 10:15 p.m., was a physical battle that kept the rotation on the court for most of the game. The Tigers, meanwhile, played several hours earlier and were able to rest their starters four minutes into the second half.  After 30 minutes of intense playoff basketball on Sunday, the Quakers were worn down by the Tigers and ran out of gas.

Early in the fourth, Alarie blocked Parker and Rush made an old-fashioned three off a transition layup to tie the score at 47.  On the next possession, Parker turned it over on a weak pass into the lane and Littlefield found Alarie for a backdoor cut to give the Tigers a 49-47 lead.

With Princeton holding a 53-52 advantage, Littlefield drove straight down the lane right between Parker and Kendall Grasela to hit an uncontested layup with 3:22 left in regulation.  Any thoughts Penn had of coming back were ended when Alarie found herself double-teamed by Parker and Princess Aghayere and kicked out a pass to Julia Cunningham, who drained a dagger three from the right key to make it a 58-52 game with 2:19 left.

The Tigers outscored the Quakers 21-7 in that last quarter, limiting the Red & Blue to only one basket in 11 attempts.  For the entire second half, the Orange & Black held Penn to 27 percent shooting with {Penn’s three All-League players, Parker, Russell and Aghayere managing to make only 10 percent of their shots.  Their team defense was even more impressive considering that Jordan was on the bench for 16 minutes and Stone was playing out of position to cover Jordan’s spot.

Perhaps the most defining aspect of the second half defense was Alarie’s performance on Parker.  Over the last 20 minutes, the two time Ivy Player of the Year dominated the Defensive Player of the Year, limiting Parker to a 1-for-14 performance from the field while rejecting three of her shots.

Over the final 20 minutes, Princeton shot 48 percent from the floor, while hitting 55 percent in the decisive fourth quarter, and made 79 percent (11-for-14) of their free throws.  Alarie ended the day with 25 points (10-for-15), six rebounds, three assists and five blocks.  Rush went 6-for-11 from the field, including 4-for-8 from downtown to put up 18 points.  Littlefield provided the late game spark for her squad, scoring all of her 13 points in the second half.

Alarie was named the Ivy Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player for the second straight year with Rush, Littlefield and Cunningham joining her on the All-Tournament team.  Penn’s Russell and Parker rounded out the six-person group.

Penn will hope the NCAA selection committee looks favorably on the team’s 23 wins, 52 RPI ranking and Ivy League regular-season co-championship.  Unfortunately, the ESPNW Bracketology page does not have the Quakers as an at-large or bubble team.

Sunday’s win gives the Tigers 12 straight wins and 21 out of their last 23 games.  The Tigers will now be making their eighth appearance in the NCAA Tournament in the last 10 years, (seven with the automatic bid and once as an at-large), all under the guidance of coach Courtney Banghart.  Last season, the Tigers were a No. 12 seed and lost to No. 5 seed Maryland, 77-57. As of Sunday night, ESPNW has Princeton as a No. 12 seed again, this time facing No. 5 Arizona State in Charlotte.

Both teams, as well as Harvard, will learn their next matchups tomorrow night with ESPN announcing the NCAA’s 64 team field at 7:00 pm EST and the WNIT making its announcement later that evening.

For more on the game, listen to IHO writer George Clark’s audio dispatch from Yale:

Leave a Comment