North Carolina

Princeton crosses Missouri to reach NCAA Tournament Sweet 16

SACRAMENTO — Princeton is the author of memorable moments in the NCAA Men’s Tournament, epic wins over UCLA (1996) and Arizona (Thursday) and near-misses Georgetown (1989), Kentucky (2011 ) and Notre Dame (2017).

But the Ivy League School navigating the Sweet 16? This is new territory, at least for half a century.

15-seeded Princeton came through on Saturday, improbably and emphatically, outscoring seventh-seeded Missouri 78-63 in a second-round matchup in the South Region at the Golden 1 Center. Princeton became the first Ivy League team to reach the Sweet 16 since Cornell in 2010.

The Tigers also became the fourth No. 15 seed to earn a spot in the Sweet 16 (including the third in three years), joining Florida Gulf Coast (2013), Oral Roberts (2021) and Saint Peter’s (2022).

Princeton coach Mitch Henderson, who played in the historic win over UCLA 27 years ago, traced that journey back to the 2020-21 season, which the Ivy League canceled due to the pandemic. This has fueled players who are now seniors, like jack-of-all-trades Tosan Evbuomwan and guard Ryan Langborg. The Tigers have gone 46-15 since.

“This group is really, really confident,” Henderson said. “We’re so excited to be going to the Sweet 16 – it’s always been my dream to go far in the tournament. … It’s an absolute pleasure to be with these guys, they grit their teeth.

In the final minute of Saturday’s game, with the outcome essentially decided, Princeton fans let out a simple, mind-boggling chant. “Sweet 16!” they shouted. “Sweet 16!”

Henderson recognized many onlookers, from former teammates in the late 1990s to former players he coached over the past 12 years.

“We really tapped into the strength of our fans this week,” Henderson said.

Langborg led Princeton with 22 points, while Blake Peters added 17 off the bench. Caden Pierce grabbed 16 rebounds as Princeton edged Missouri 44-30.

The win propelled Princeton (23-8) into the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1967, before the NCAA tournament became a cultural phenomenon and before “Sweet 16” became part of the vernacular. The tournament featured only 23 teams (all conference champions) in 1967, and Princeton needed just one win, against West Virginia, to become one of the final 16 teams. The Tigers lost to North Carolina in the Eastern Region semifinals.

Two years earlier, in 1965, future NBA All-Star and U.S. Senator Bill Bradley had led Princeton to the Final Four. This team beat Penn State, North Carolina State and Providence (by 40 points) before falling to Michigan in the national semifinals.

Here’s a nice slice of trivia: In the third-place national game, Bradley scored 58 points as Princeton cruised to a 118-82 win over Wichita State. Yes, that’s 118 points without the 3-point line or the shot clock.

Princeton took a 33-19 lead late in the first half on Saturday, and that was no mirage. Langborg had three 3-pointers and Pierce — a 6-foot-6 freshman forward whose brother, Alec, plays wide receiver for the Indianapolis Colts — crushed the boards with abandon. Pierce grabbed nine rebounds before halftime.

It exposed the myth of a small Ivy League school watching a big, bad SEC team. Princeton’s starting lineup is actually bigger than Missouri’s, punctuated by Evbuomwan, a 6-8 forward who thrives near the basket and often initiates Princeton’s offense near the top of the key. He posted a line similar to that of Draymond Green on Saturday: nine points, nine rebounds and five assists.

“You won’t see Tosan move to Princeton for 50 years,” Henderson said.

Missouri responded in the final minutes of the first half, scoring the final seven points to cut their deficit to 33-26. Missouri also scored the first bucket of the second half, but Princeton then scored seven straight to regain control.

“Every time we cut the lead, they came back and did what a good team does – take a shot or play a play,” said Missouri coach Dennis Gates, a former Cal player and coach. deputy. “For Coach Henderson to take the next step, I have nothing but respect for him. They were the better team today.

One of the main reasons Princeton protected their lead was Peters. He went scoreless in two minutes of first-half action, then came to life and hit five 3-pointers in the second half.

It helped Princeton pull out and book their unlikely ticket to Louisville for next week’s regional semifinals.

“I can’t really put this feeling into words,” Evbuomwan said of the Sweet 16. “We have a close group. We like working with each other and pushing each other.

Contact Ron Kroichick: [email protected]; Twitter: @ronkroichick


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