How No. 4 Brown toppled No. 1 Princeton to head to Ivy League Tournament final

Brown head coach Mike Martin and junior forward Nana Owusu-Anane talk to the media after the Bears 90-81 upset of Princeton in the first Ivy semifinal. (Photo: Rob Browne)

NEW YORK – A jubilant and relieved Brown coach Mike Martin said time went backward over the last eight minutes as his team’s 18-point lead evaporated to three with under a minute left in regulation in Saturday’s Ivy League Tournament semifinal,

But the No. 4 Bears held on to defeat No. 1 Princeton, 90-81, in front of a packed house at Levien Gymnasium and a national ESPNU audience.

The team’s semifinal victory, the first-ever for a No. 4 seed in either the men’s or women’s division through the six-year history of the Ivy League Tournament, sends the Bears to Sunday afternoon’s finale and a chance for the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1986.

Despite a regular season championship, Saturday’s furious comeback and the national memory of last year’s Sweet 16 run, the Tigers’ chances at an at-large bid to the Big Dance appear to be slim.

Brown junior Nana Owusu-Anane, a Second-Team All-Ivy forward, told reporters that the team doesn’t often perform well in the first four or eight minutes of a game, so it was a big emphasis for the team to start strong and throw the first punch.

For good measure, Bruno also threw the second, third and fourth haymakers.

In a fast-paced and close opening 12 minutes, the Bears used an 8-1 run to open up a 10-point lead, 34-24.

Another 6-0 run stretched the lead to 14, 41-27, with 3:30 left on the clock and Brown finished the half up 44-31.

During the opening half, Bruno shot a strong 59% (13-for-22) from two and 46% (5-for-11) from three, while having three starters in double digits.

First-team All-Ivy junior guard Kino Lilly Jr. had 12 points (5-for-6), sophomore forward Kalu Anya had 10 points, and Owusu-Anane totaled 10 points (4-for-6) and nine rebounds.

On the other hand, Princeton struggled from the field as the half continued.

The Tigers started off hot, hitting three of its first four attempts from beyond the arc. However, things quickly cooled off, with the group making only two of its next 15.

Second Team All-Ivy senior guard Matt Allocco led the way for Orange & Black in the first half with nine points and three triples. Sophomore forward Caden Pierce, the Ivy Player of the Year, had eight points, but first-year guard Xaivian Lee, a fellow First Team member, only had three points on 1-for-4 shooting.

The Bears kept up their hot play, hitting five of six shots and stretching the lead to 22, 55-35, two-plus minutes into the second half.

At the 10-minute mark, Lilly hit a George Gervin-esque floating jumper in the lane and hit the and-one free throw to keep the Bears comfortably in front, 66-47.

For Brown and its fans, that would be the last easy-going moment until the final few seconds.

The Tigers, sensing their tournament and NCAA dreams fading away, made one last push to claw its way back.

Using stifling full-court pressure as well as the dynamic play of first-year guard Dalen Davis to great effect, Princeton furiously chipped away at the deficit.

Brown coughed it up four times in the next four minutes, while Davis repeatedly drove the lane for layups. With 6:15 on the clock the Tigers were still down 15, 75-60, and had to step up the pressure.

Each inbounds was a minefield for the Bears, and Princeton repeatedly took advantage of the miscues.

When Allocco nailed a three-pointer, the champs got the deficit under 10, 79-71, with just over three minutes to go.

The Bears were ahead 83-74 with 1:10 left, when a driving layup by Pierce and a layup off another Brown turnover by junior guard Blake Peters made it 83-78 20 seconds later.

After Lilly went 1-for-2 from the free throw line, Allocco hit a step-back three-pointer to make it a one-possession game, 84-81, with 45 seconds to go.

Lilly was again sent to the line, but this time he went 2-for-2 to make it a two-possession game.

With the ball in the hands of the Ivy Player of the Year, Pierce was stripped by Anya, who dished it to Alexander Lesburt Jr. and the sophomore guard delivered a fastbreak layup to up the lead to seven, 88-81.

Davis tried one last time to get the Tigers back into the game, but his jumper from outside the paint clanked off the rim and the game was effectively over.

Lilly finished the afternoon with a game-high 27 points and 10 assists, while Owusu-Anane notched 19 points and 15 rebounds. Anya had his own double-double with 13 points and 11 boards, and Lesburt, the recipient of several press-breaking passes, added 15 points (12 in the second half).

In the losing effort, Allocco, playing his last Ivy League contest, ended with 20 points and five three-pointers. Pierce, despite the late game turnover, had a stellar 19-point, 12-rebound performance. While Lee, the highly touted point guard, struggled (six points on 2-for-8 shooting) all day, Davis finished with a team-high 21 points, all of which came in the second half.

Things were tense in the Princeton postgame press conference, where coach Mitch Henderson came out by himself.

With rumors attaching his name to openings at Stanford, Michigan and Vanderbilt, many in the room, as well as many in Tiger Nation, wondered if this would be his last presser for the Orange & Black.

“We’ve not been down like that all season,’ the league’s Coach of the Year told the media. We played 28 games and had great fight and togetherness, but tonight we were a step off in all spots, and maybe that’s my fault. We were number one in the country in not turning the ball over, but we turned the ball over a lot, and it really hurt us.”

In the Brown postgame presser, the Bears leader opened by extolling the virtues of his opponents.

“First off, I just have so much respect for Princeton and they’ve had an amazing season. They should be considered for the NCAA Tournament, but they’ll keep on playing,” Martin stated to the crowd. “Princeton’s a terrific team and incredible Ivy League champions.”

After a season of injuries and a 2-6 start to league play, Brown’s all-time winningest coach went on to praise his team’s resiliency.

“They played like the team we thought we were back in August,” Martin told the media. “When you go through those experiences, if you can stay with it and stay connected and continue to believe, it’s only going to make you that much better when you get through.”

Asked whether he preferred to face Yale or Cornell, two teams that the Bears defeated on road during their present seven-game winning streak, the 12-year head coach had no opinions.

“[This was o]nly one win, when we came here to obviously get two,” Martin stated thoughtfully. “It’s going to be an unbelievable challenge regardless of who we play.”

1 thought on “How No. 4 Brown toppled No. 1 Princeton to head to Ivy League Tournament final”

  1. As disappointing as this loss is for Orange and Black nation, you’ve got to feel good for Mike Martin and his Brown Bears. Martin is one of the truly good guys in college basketball. I was in the room to hear his gracious remarks toward Princeton and was touched by his sincerity. No one deserves this moment more than Mike. Congratulations to Coach Martin and Brown.

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