Five thoughts on Princeton men’s exit from the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16

Princeton senior point forward Tosan Evbuomwan may have lost in the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Friday night, but he still walked off the court at the KFC Yum! Center a champion. (Steve Silverman)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – There is much to digest as Princeton Nation reacts to a tough 86-75 loss by the men’s basketball team to Creighton in the Sweet 16 on Friday night. Here are five reactions from a courtside perspective at the KFC Yum! Center:

1.  The Creighton Blue Jays are for real

Although Princeton lost this game by double-digits, the Tigers played well, shooting nearly 47% from the field and turning the ball over only five times.  The Tigers simply ran into a buzzsaw in the form of a Creighton quintet that shot the ball lights out all night long. The Blue Jays started out hot, making eight of their first 12 shots, and they never really cooled off. They shot 57.4% from the field and eight of nine from the free throw line.  The Blue Jays look like a bona fide Final Four team to me, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they go on to win the entire tournament.  

2. The Princeton men’s team is for real, too

As well as Creighton played, Princeton fought like a champion on Friday night.  There was no quit in this Tigers squad, which performed admirably before a raucous crowd of fans from both schools.  The play of two seniors in particular – Ryan Langborg and Tosan Evbuomwan, who scored 26 and 24 points, respectively – inspired college basketball fans around the world.  Princeton’s performance in the NCAA Tournament made all of its fans and followers incredibly proud.  These Tigers can hold their heads high as they reflect back on one of the best seasons in the storied history of Princeton basketball. 

3. Princeton couldn’t control the tempo of the game  

In each of Princeton’s two tournament wins last weekend over Arizona and Missouri, the Tigers controlled the tempo for vast stretches of the game and prevented transition baskets.  In contrast, Creighton imposed its will on the Tigers, pressing the pace of play relentlessly throughout the contest.  The two teams combined for 90 points in the first half alone, a pace that played into Creighton’s hands.  In his postgame press conference, coach Mitch Henderson admitted it wasn’t part of Princeton’s game plan to allow such a fast game to be played, even though the Tigers were efficient when they had the ball.  Give credit to Creighton and its coaching staff for winning the battle of wills in dictating how the game was played.  

4. The Tigers struggled to handle Creighton’s physicality 

The Tigers surprised a lot of people this year by controlling the boards on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor in nearly every game they played.  And in the first half against Creighton, the Tigers continued this trend, keeping themselves in the game by outscoring the Blue Jays 10-2 in second-chance points. All of that changed in the second half. By the end of the night, the Blue Jays had won the battle of the boards, 34-24, the largest rebounding deficit of the season for Princeton.  

5. The Princeton men’s basketball team will be a force to be reckoned with again next season

The Sweet 16 loss brings an end to the Princeton playing careers of an incredible senior class that included all-world players Ryan Langborg, Keeshawn Kellman, Tosan Evbuomwan, Jacob O’Connell and Konrad Kiszka.  These outstanding players and young men left an indelible mark on the program and they will be sorely missed. 

But Henderson and his coaching staff have a full cupboard of returning players, including junior Matt Allocco, sophomores Blake Peters and Zach Martini, and super freshmen Caden Pierce, Xaivian Lee, Deven Austin and Jake Scott, along with several others.  The future of Princeton basketball looks incredibly bright.

So despair not, Princeton Nation.  The program is in great hands with more Ivy League titles and thrilling tournament runs to come.  

4 thoughts on “Five thoughts on Princeton men’s exit from the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16”

  1. There is good reason for faith that Coach Henderson will reload quickly. But in terms of next year, they are losing a ton more talent than either Penn or the Yale team against whom they went 1-2.

    • I think Princeton is losing a lot more than Penn and Yale.

      By the same token, a showing like this could mean a great recruiting year. That happened to Princeton after they were 27-2 and top 10 for a long while in the late 90’s. Look for an impressive freshman class (if it’s not too late). Star center Chris Young was in the incoming class (who missed a basketball season because he signed a baseball contract and later pitched in the majors).

  2. Great piece, Steve. It was an absolute joy to follow this team to Sacramento and then to Louisville.

    It looked to me like Caden Pierce was limping a little on the court in Louisville. Do you know if he sustained an injury that may have detracted from his rebounding on Friday?

  3. Hi, Jim. Yes, Pierce did get dinged up at some point during the game and there were times where he was on the bench and/or riding the bike to deal with an undisclosed issue. I think a key turning point in the game occurred with about 5 minutes left in the first half when Kaden picked up his second foul. Mitch had to sit him at that point and Creighton went on a run to close out the half. Princeton never recovered.

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