Tiger Takeaways from Princeton men’s basketball’s Ivy Madness semifinal loss to Brown

Princeton coach Mitch Henderson paces the sideline in the final minute of his team’s 90-81 upset loss to Brown in their Ivy League Tournament semifinal matchup Saturday. (Photo by Steve Silverman)

A valiant comeback by the Princeton men’s basketball team came up short at Levien Gym on Saturday afternoon as the No. 1 Tigers fell to the No. 4 Brown Bears, 90-81, in their Ivy League Tournament semifinal matchup Saturday. Here are three takeaways from the shocking end to Princeton’s magical Ivy League season:
1. The hottest team won

Although Princeton came into Saturday’s semifinal riding a nine-game winning streak, it turned out Bruno had the hotter hand.  That was Princeton coach Mitch Henderson’s takeaway in a solemn postgame press conference.

“They’re the hottest team in the league,” Henderson said.  “And they were really on fire.”

He’s not wrong. The Bears had a six-game winning streak coming into this game, and after shooting nearly 56% against the Tigers, they now have a seven-game winning streak, the longest conference winning streak for Bruno in 14 years.

The most remarkable aspect of Brown’s current run is how greatly it departs from the way the Bears began the season.  Unlike Princeton, who started the season hot and continued to play winning basketball throughout the season, Brown didn’t find its footing until mid-February.  Ironically, the last time Brown lost was on Feb. 16 at Princeton, 72-65.

However, even in that defeat, there were clues that Brown might be capable of turning their season around.  Despite a 6-17 record, the Bears dominated Princeton at Jadwin Gym a month ago for the first 33 minutes, leading by 10 points with under seven minutes to play.  Although Princeton came back to win the game, it was obvious that Brown’s superior size and strength created problems for Princeton’s undersized frontcourt.  On Saturday at Levien Gym, those problems exploded into full view.  Brown outrebounded Princeton 41-32 and converted 32 defensive rebounds and 10 Princeton turnovers into 19 fast break points compared to only three for Princeton.

2. Dalen Davis is going to be a star in this league.

If there was a bright spot for Princeton on Saturday, it was the emergence of Dalen Davis, a highly touted freshman recruit from Chicago.  Davis came off the bench to spark Princeton when they were desperate for a lift, scoring all of his team-leading 21 points in the second half.

Davis played with fearless aplomb, willfully driving to the basket time after time.  With Princeton trailing by 19 points, 58-39 at the 12:36 mark of the second half, Davis took the Tigers on his back scoring 21 points over the next 8 minutes.  The only blemish for the freshman was his sub-par shooting performance from behind the arc, where Davis went 1 for 8.  Had one or two more of Davis’s shots from distance fallen, Princeton might have pulled off a comeback for the ages.

Davis’s outstanding game did not emerge in a vacuum.  The 6-0 guard had been picking up steam in recent games, scoring 66 points in his last five games and winning Ivy League Rookie of the Week honors two weeks ago.  With Matt Allocco graduating this year, look for Davis to become key cog in Princeton’s backcourt over the next three seasons.

3.  The future for Princeton going forward is cloudy.

Was this Mitch Henderson’s last Ivy League game as Princeton’s head coach?  After Stanford dismissed Jerod Haase as its head coach earlier this week, suspicions began to swirl that Mitch Henderson might be one of the leading candidates to take over the helm for the Cardinal’s basketball program in Palo Alto.

Given Henderson’s consistent success since returning 12 years ago to Old Nassau as the skipper of Princeton men’s basketball,  Princeton has been fortunate to hold onto Henderson for so long and no one could blame the former Princeton star player from testing the waters at a power program should the opportunity arise.

Even if Henderson stays on at Princeton, the Tigers will lose Matt Allocco, the heart and soul of the team, to graduation along with forward Zach Martini, a terrific three point shooter and defender.  There’s also speculation that one or more of Princeton’s young stars, such as Xaivian Lee or Caden Pierce, could be lured away to a “power conference” program, especially if Henderson also departs.

A year ago, after Princeton’s season ended with a loss to Creighton in the Sweet 16, I wrote that Princeton’s future remained bright despite the graduation of a spectacular senior class that included Tosan Evboumwan, Ryan Langborg and Keeshawn Kellman.  I’m not so sure that outlook remains as true for the immediate future.  Princeton men’s basketball may be at an inflection point as the 2023-24 season winds to a close.

Regardless of what the future may bring, nothing can take away from the spectacular success this coaching staff and group of players has accomplished over the past three seasons.  A grateful Orange and Black nation celebrates their accomplishments and their dedication to maintaining and building the grand tradition of college basketball at Old Nassau.

1 thought on “Tiger Takeaways from Princeton men’s basketball’s Ivy Madness semifinal loss to Brown”

  1. Hats off to Brown for a perfect game plan, perfectly executed. Worth remembering how low the preseason expectations were for the Tigers – in a sense they overachieved all season long, and the known weaknesses (undersized, bench not deep enough, etc.) came home to roost today. Plus Xaivian may not have been 100% physically today. All in all, great season for a great group.

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