Tuesday, March 28, 2023

NCAA Runner-Up

TigerBlog's car was parked next to a clearly classic car yesterday at the supermarket.

As TB got back to his car and the owner of the other car got out of his, a third car pulled up, and a man who appeared to be in his early 20s yelled out the window: "You've got a great car man." Actually, he included an expletive before "car," though TB has chosen to delete the expletive.

Then the young man yelled out "what year?"

Before the man with the fancy car could say anything, TigerBlog said "2015." When the young man gave a quizzical look, TB said "oh, thought you meant this car" as he pointed to his.

As it turns out, he didn't. 

Also as it turns out, the fancy car was a 1968 Ford Thunderbird. TB has no idea if it came with Positraction (and if you don't get the reference, then that's as bad as knowing that Zach Martini of the men's basketball team has never seen "Hoosiers").

TigerBlog's first car was a 1977 Dodge Diplomat. It had an eight-track player. Would that be considered a classic now? 

Seguing back to the world of Princeton Athletics, there was more to NCAA success than just basketball this past week. The Tiger fencing team put up big numbers at its own NCAA Championships this past weekend at Duke.

In fact, Princeton finished second nationally in the co-ed event, behind only NCAA champion Notre Dame, who won 188 bouts to 175 for the Tigers. Princeton finished 19 wins ahead of third-place Columbia. 

This is the fourth time since the event became co-ed in 1990 that Princeton has finished in the top two. The Tigers won the 2013 NCAA title, and they were the runner-up in 2012, 2014 and now 2023.

Once again, were there separate NCAA events for the men and the women, then Princeton's women would have won. The Tigers had 98 points on the women's side, four better than the next-best total of 94 by Notre Dame.

The Princeton men would have finished in third place, two points back of Columbia for second. Of course, it's a co-ed event, for reasons that TB doesn't know. 

It does seem like there is a movement to have separate championships, largely because there is no school in the country that has only a men's team but there are schools who only field a women's team. Because of the combined scoring, a women-only team has no chance at winning a team championship.

There are also individual champions in each weapon. Basically, a school can qualify three fencers per weapon, and there is a round-robin event for team team points are earned. When that is over, the top four in each weapon advance to the individual semifinals.

Princeton did not have an individual champion, but it did have 11 of its 12 fencers earn All-American honors. Princeton also had three individual runners-up: Mohamed Hamza in the men's foil, May Tieu in the women's foil and Jessica Lin in the women's epee. 

Congratulations to the Tiger fencers. That was a wildly impressive weekend.

TigerBlog was once at a James Taylor concert where the singer had just come out with a new album that didn't really sell that well. He began the show by basically saying "If you clap for the new songs, I'll play all the old ones you want to hear."

As TB said yesterday, readership here skyrocketed during the recent NCAA basketball tournament runs for the Princeton men and women. He hopes that you'll stay as he gets back to writing about the entirety of Princeton Athletics.

Princeton is a special place, with teams who regularly have great performances during the year and in the postseason. For proof, go to goprincetontigers.com and check out how many athletes won Player of the Week this week.

If you're new here, hopefully you'll be intrigued by what you learn and want to follow the Tigers.

Also, as this week moves along, there will be major changes coming to this blog. You'll still get the same content you're used to and that TB has brought you since 2009. It's just that the way it's presented is going to change, for the first time in all those years. It'll be an exciting change that TB hopes you'll like.

Stay tuned.

Monday, March 27, 2023

A Little More Hoops

For the last two weeks, other than saluting Patrick Glory's NCAA wrestling title, TigerBlog has been all about basketball. 

Judging by the readership numbers, which skyrocketed by the way, it seems like most of you out there were okay with it. Hey, Princeton Basketball, both the men and the women, captured the imagination of the entire country. 

When a team does extraordinarily well on the national stage, here's always what's come to be known as the "Flutie Factor." It dates back to when Doug Flutie won the Heisman Trophy at Boston College in 1984, and as a result applications to go to school there went way up. TB heard quite a few joking references to this phenomenon with Princeton's success.

And so he starts today talking about ... basketball?

As he assumes most Princeton fans were doing, TB was rooting for Creighton to win it all after knocking out the Tigers Friday night in the Sweet 16. Creighton came really close to getting to the Final Four yesterday, falling 57-56 to San Diego State. 

Yes, that could have been called a foul. No, under absolutely no circumstances should that have been called a foul in that situation. First, the officials didn't call a tight game. Second, you can't decide a trip to the Final Four with that call. It's awful. 

And don't blame the Creighton player. You simply can't make that call in that situation. If there had been blatant, shot-altering contact, then yes. There wasn't any in that situation.

The Final Four is set on the men's side, with Florida Atlantic to play San Diego State and Miami to play UConn. The winners will play for the national championship.

If you're wondering, there are no No. 1 or No. 2 seeds who are left. FAU is a nine. San Diego state is a five. Miami is also a five. UConn is the highest (or is that lowest?) seed left as a No. 4.

When Princeton's Gary Walters was the head of the committee, the Final Four consisted of three No. 1 seeds and a No. 2 seed. TB will have to ask Gary if that's the goal of the committee and if the committee feels like that result makes them seem like they knew what they were doing.

One more basketball note - You can watch Princeton alum Abby Meyers and Maryland play against No. 1 South Carolina tonight at 7 for a trip to the Final Four. Meyers has averaged 12 points per game in Maryland's first three NCAA games this season. 

At Princeton, Meyers played in three NCAA games, averaging 17.7 per, including a 29-point outburst in the win over Kentucky last year. She has 89 points in NCAA tournament games in her career heading into the game tonight. 

Speaking of NCAA tournament points, Princeton's Ryan Langborg had 56 of them in the three games. When was the last time a Princeton player had at least that many points in one NCAA tournament? It's actually happened five times in program history, all of which happened in the 1960s:

1) Bill Bradley - 177 points (1965)
2) Bill Bradley - 86 points (1964)
3) Pete Campbell - 75 points (1961)
4) Joe Heiser - 58 points (1967)
5) Ryan Langborg (2023)/John Haarlow (1967) - 56 points 

Princeton has played in a lot of NCAA tournaments since the 1960s. Nobody has exceeded what Langborg did this year. 

Speaking of Princeton's NCAA tournament records, Blake Peters made 11 three-pointers in the tournament, bettering the record held by Brian Earl (1998). Peters is also three away from Earl's career record of 14, and the five Peters made against Missouri in Round 2 tied the single-game record set by Earl twice (he had five against both UNLV and Michigan State in the 1998 tournament).

Of course, Tosan Evbuomwan got in on the record-setting as well. His nine assists against Creighton are a new record, one better than the old record held by Kit Mueller (three times) and Bill Bradley (twice). Evbuomwan's 18 assists in the tournament are also a new record, beating the 14 set by Bradley in 1965 and equaled by Billy Ryan in 1983. 

And TB told you last week that Caden Pierce's 16 rebounds against Missouri were the third-best total a Princeton player has had in an NCAA game. Lastly, Langborg and Keeshawn Kellman both blocked two shots against Arizona, making them the fourth and fifth Princeton players to do so in a game.

With that, TB thinks he's done with basketball, at least for a little while. 

He will say this: The Final Four may be this weekend, but the 2023 men's tournament belonged to Princeton.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

How Sweet It Was

From the time his team had finished off Missouri last Saturday to reach the NCAA Sweet 16 until tip-off Friday night in Louisville, Princeton head men's basketball coach Mitch Henderson gave a master class on how to represent an institution. 

He was humble. He gave full credit to his players, to his mentors, to the spirit and pride that define the University. He mentioned the great fan support. He talked about how much the team had changed since his playing days in the 1990s. His love of all things Princeton, and not just basketball, was obvious.

There is no grade Henderson can get other than an A+ for how he handled success. 

He also did a masterful job guiding his team through March. His composure and maturity as a coach were obvious, and his team fed off of that. The Tigers maintained their own poise, soaked up every minute and every experience there was to be had and then went out on the biggest stage in their sport and competed as hard as they could.  

And then? March showed that it could be cruel. With each hurdle cleared, the bar gets raised. With each win, the next one becomes even tougher. Any bad stretch and that's the end of it.

And it doesn't matter if you're the 15 seed who has already won two massive games in the NCAA tournament. When the end comes, you're not ready for it and you don't like it one bit. It leaves you wanting more and wondering what might have been.

The end came for Princeton Friday night in Louisville, where the Tigers fell 86-75 to sixth-seeded Creighton. Princeton had fallen behind early but rallied in the first half to go up 38-34, and at that point, Princeton was dripping with confidence. The team wanted it. The crowd certainly did, especially the Tiger fans who had converged on the KFC Yum! Center from all over.

Princeton was ahead and playing with momentum. San Diego State had already taken down No. 1 Alabama.

Everyone anywhere in Orange and Black had two words floating through their head: Final Four. The only problem is that Creighton had the same thoughts. And Creighton had a 7-1 big man named Ryan Kalkbrenner who was nearly impossible to stop, especially on a night when another Blue Jay, Baylor Scheierman, shot 5 for 7 from three-point range.

Just like that, it was Creighton who was headed to Sunday's Elite Eight game against San Diego State, and it was Princeton who was headed home. That's how this tournament works.

Of course, if you recall, this was the same Princeton team that lost a 19-point lead on its home court against Yale back on Feb. 18. When Princeton walked off the Jadwin Gym floor that night, who saw this coming? 

Who would have imagined that Princeton's next loss would be in the Sweet 16? The Sweet 16, for Pete's sake. 

Ah, and speaking of Pete, Princeton did this in the first year after the passing of Pete Carril, it's Hall of Fame coach. This team didn't play anywhere near the style that Carril's teams did, but they did play with a bow tie patch on their uniforms out of respect for the late coach, a man many of the members of this team got to know and a man who meant so much to so many of the people in the crowd last weekend in Sacramento and on this night in Kentucky.

Carril used to say that he hoped his team would "give a good account of itself." By any metric, this team did.

Amazingly, Princeton built a 19-point lead against Harvard in the game after the loss to Yale and then had to hold on to win 58-56. Then it was a 19-point deficit against Penn in the regular season finale that Princeton overcame to earn a share of the league championship.

The next challenge was getting a third win over Penn, which Princeton did. Then it was to beat its nemesis Yale to get into the NCAA tournament, which it did.

From there, it was the small matter of No. 2 Arizona and No. 7 Missouri, both of whom Princeton sent home last weekend. It was an extraordinary performance by a team that kept getting better and peaked at the absolute right time.

Ryan Langborg, a senior, scored 52 points in three NCAA games, improving from eight to 22 to 26 against Creighton. Tosan Evbuowman, another senior, had 48 points, 22 rebounds and 18 assists in his three NCAA games.

Just typing that is surreal. Three NCAA games. Princeton had three NCAA games. 

It's a 68-team tournament. It ends with a loss for 67 of those teams. When it comes, it stings. 

And when that sting wears off, you're left to remember what you just accomplished, or, if you're a fan, what you just witnessed. And what you saw from the 2022-23 Princeton men's basketball team is one of the greatest accomplishments in the history of Tiger Athletics. 

This is a team that will never be forgotten. 

Thanks for the magical March, Tigers.

Friday, March 24, 2023

Sweet 16 Game Night

From the final buzzer of its win over Missouri last Saturday — actually, make that from around the under-8 media timeout of its win over Missouri — the Princeton men's basketball team has been riding a wave of excitement, attention and celebrity.

Each moment is something extraordinary. Each day has brought another memory that will last forever for all of them. 

Tonight, though, it's all business. It's Princeton against Creighton in Louisville in the Sweet 16. Tip-off is at 9.

The winner of that game plays the winner of tonight's first game at the KFC Yum! Center, between Alabama and San Diego State Sunday for a trip to the Final Four. 

Princeton's run marks the third straight year that a No 15 seed has gotten this far. In fact, it's the second straight year that a No. 15 from New Jersey has gotten to the second weekend, after St. Peter's did a year ago. 

St. Peter's defeated No. 2 Kentucky and No. 7 Murray State and then won a third game, defeating No. 3 Purdue in the Sweet 16 before falling to North Carolina in the regional final. 

The year before, it was Oral Roberts as a 15 seed who reached the Sweet 16, after beating No. 2 Ohio State and No. 7 Florida.  

Before that? The tournament began its current seeding process in 1985. The only other school besides Princeton, St. Peter's and Oral Roberts to get this far was Florida-Gulf Coast, who dunked its way past No. 2 Georgetown and No. 7 San Diego State.

Princeton is also the 36th team seeded No. 9 or lower (or is that higher?) to get this far. Those teams, seeded 9-15, are 12-23 in the Sweet 16. Only five such teams have then won again to reach the Final Four, and all five were 11 seeds: LSU (1986), George Mason (2006), Loyola (2018), UCLA (2021). 

The good part about being a No. 15 who wins its opener is that the first game is against the No. 2, which means that it can't face a higher (or is that lower?) seed until the regional final. Princeton followed up its 59-55 win over No. 2 Arizona by beating No. 7 Missouri 78-63. The 15-point margin was the largest ever by a 15-seed in an NCAA game.

Now it's No. 6 Creighton. The Blue Jays got here by defeating No. 11 North Carolina State 72-63 and then No. 3 Baylor 85-76. They have never gotten any further than this in the NCAA tournament.

There aren't many teams Princeton could play whose career leader in points has more than the Tigers' does, but Creighton is one of them. Doug McDermott, in fact, is the No. 7 all-time leading scorer in Division I history, having scored 3,150 points as a Blue Jay before heading to a long NBA career.

Greg McDermott, Doug's father, is the Creighton head coach, and he's been in his position longer than any other current Big East coach (13 years). Here's what he said about Princeton yesterday:

Offensively, you know, Evbuomwan, he can score, and he can really pass. If you allow him to do both, you're asking for trouble. So we have to figure out a way to slow that down. It's hard to do, and they space the floor with a lot of really good shooters. Then when they miss, you know, the first two games, 30 second-chance points for Princeton and four combined for Arizona and Missouri. So I think that speaks to their discipline defensively on the glass, blocking out, not giving you second opportunities, and then their second effort that they make to get to that offensive glass when they do miss a shot. We have our hands full. This is a really, really good basketball team. It's not a fluke that they're still playing.

Creighton has done something in its first two NCAA games that no team has done since 1997, and that's had two different players score at least 30 points in a game. First it was 7-1 Ryan Kalkbrenner with 31 against NC State, and then it was Ryan Nembhard with 30 against Baylor. 

The most impressive stats for Princeton through two NCAA games involve rebounding. The Tigers have outrebounded their first two NCAA opponents by a combined 82-67. The Tigers have a 30-4 edge in second-chance points through two NCAA games.

Between the two of them, they were a combined 7 for 45 from three-point range in their first games and then 23 for 57 in the next two games combined.

Will the game be decided somewhere in those numbers? Will Princeton be able to defend the 7-1 Kalkbrenner? Will the Tigers be great on the offensive glass? Will the three-pointers fall for one and not the other? 

Or will it be something else? 

No matter what, this is one of the biggest moments in Princeton Basketball history. To get this far is extraordinary.

To go further? Either Princeton or Creighton will know that feeling later tonight.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

"I Think You'll Find These Are The Exact Same Measurements At Our Gym Back In Hickory"

TigerBlog was sitting with Zach Martini in Jadwin Gym during Monday's media session for the Princeton men's basketball team when he learned something extraordinary.

TB asked Martini about the experience of being at the tournament last weekend in Sacramento, and he said this:

“I looked around the arena, and my legs were shaking. I didn’t have much control for about 10 seconds. After that, it was a basketball game. It might not have been Jadwin, but it was just another basketball game.”

From that point, this is where the conversation went:

TB: That's like the scene from "Hoosiers."
ZM: I've never seen it.
TB: (with a look of incredulity) You've never seen "Hoosiers?" How is that possible?

Indeed, how is that possible. How can a college basketball player not have seen "Hoosiers?" Is TB that old?

By the way, TB doesn't have to tell you which scene he meant, but if you need a refresher, it's this one.

TigerBlog was speaking with Martini to do a feature on him and another Princeton big man, Keeshawn Kellman. Both were outstanding last week, especially against the size of the Arizona big men.

The two of them spent a great deal of time during the Covid year as workout partners. Actually, you can make that "early morning workout partners." From there, they've become extremely close. 

You can read the feature story HERE.

The two big men and the rest of the Princeton travel party rolled out of the circle by Caldwell Field House around 1 yesterday afternoon, heading to Philadelphia Airport for a charter flight to Louisville. That's where the Tigers will take on Creighton in the NCAA Sweet 16 tomorrow night, with tip-off from the KFC Yum! Center at 9 pm.

It was a huge celebration of a send-off for Princeton. There was a large crowd gathered in front of Caldwell, and as with everything else the team has done the last week, there were television cameras to capture it all.

TB's favorite sign was one held up by members of the band that read "Cinderella Is A Jersey Girl." Now that's genius. 

There were claps and cheers and chants of "Let's Go Tigers. Let's Go Tigers." It was a pretty special moment. It was easy to see that the players were loving it. And why not? They've definitely earned all of this. 

At approximately the same time, but 1,250 miles to the west, Creighton was having a similarly festive send off, though TB isn't sure if Creighton's had free pizza, like Princeton's did. This is what happens when there are only 16 teams that remain in the men's basketball tournament. 

The KFC Yum! Center, by the way, is 702 miles from Jadwin Gym and 690 miles from Creighton's home arena, the CHI Health Center. That's about as neutral a site as you can get.

The NCAA tournament routine is the same for each of its three weekends. There is the travel day. Then the next day, today, would be for media availability, a one-hour walkthrough in the arena and then another gym somewhere for a real practice. The next day is Game Day.

The scene from "Hoosiers" is more than just a classic moment from a classic movie (that Martini needs to see immediately). There's a lot to be learned from that bit of coaching genius.

It is the same 10 feet to the rim as Jadwin. It is the same 15 feet to the foul line. All the dimensions are the same. 

There are multiple challenges here. You have to be ready for all of the attention, and has Princeton ever gotten the attention. Then you have to be able to switch off from the "this is an incredible experience" part to the "we're here to win a basketball game" part. 

First and foremost, you need to believe you can do it. If you don't start with that, then you have no chance. 

Then you have to figure out how. Then you have to go do it.

This Princeton team did just that a week ago in California. Now it's the same task in Louisville. 

TB's advice to the Tigers? 

Give it everything you have. Cherish the experience. 

Actually, that's what he emailed Martini when he sent him the clip from "Hoosiers."


Wednesday, March 22, 2023

The Modern Tigers Head To The Sweet 16

As you probably recall, one of TigerBlog's favorite stories about former Princeton head men's basketball coach Bill Carmody is the time that he was talking to the media after a game far from Jadwin Gym and was asked about how even his center shot three-pointers.

"In our program, everyone shoots the three," he said. Then, pointing to TB, he said "even our SID can make one."

Oh, how the times have changed. Witness this picture:

And just who is that? Well, that's Elliott Carr, the current Princeton men's basketball athletic communications contact. Elliott, by the way, scored 501 points as a player at Clarke University before graduating in 2012. Still being able to dunk in his early 30s? Impressive.

If ever there was a metaphor for the evolution of Princeton men's basketball, it's that picture. Even the SID can dunk now.

For those who have been paying attention, you know that the Princeton men's basketball team that heads to the Sweet 16 to take on Creighton Friday night at 9 in Louisville plays a much different way than the Tigers of the past. If you're one of those people, then you're also probably in the minority.

TB was watching "Pardon the Interruption" Monday to hear what they would have to say about Princeton's sweep of Arizona and Missouri in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament. Tony Kornheiser went first and spoke about how "Princeton knows who it is" and "Princeton knows its limitations."

All TB could do was shake his head. Then it was Michael Wilbon's turn. He got it right. "I watched them. I saw guys dunking. I saw guys getting offensive rebounds."

Yes, he did. It's partly because of how the game has changed and partly because so much of the basketball world adopted the principles of the "Princeton Offense" after the success of the 1990s. 

Mostly, though, it's because of Mitch Henderson's desire to get his team to where it is this week. Actually, it's his desire to get to this point and then to have it not be a once-in-a-lifetime event.

To do so, he's built a team that is athletic, physical and fast-paced. Princeton had its highest-scoring team ever a year ago, averaging 79.8 points per game. This year's team is just under 76. 

The team that beat UCLA with Henderson as its point guard in 1996? That team averaged 59.1 points per game. The team two years later that reached the top 10 of the national rankings? That team averaged 66.5.

The 1998 team was 306th in Division I in rebounding, averaging 26.6 per game. This year's team ranks ninth, with 39.42 per game.

This hasn't happened accidentally. It's the vision that Henderson and his staff have had.

At the same time, Henderson has not abandoned the intangibles that have always made Princeton special. It's a team that greatly values its history, its alums, its legacy in the sport. 

If you ask TigerBlog, this the by-product of the coaching legacy that he referenced yesterday, how Princeton's men's basketball history is sort of like an ancestry.com account. Can any other program trace its lineage the way Princeton can, going back decades and having its never-broken chain?

Gary Walters has been a huge part of that chain as a player, assistant coach and Director of Athletics. In fact, he was a huge part of it before he even realized it, as he played for Pete Carril at Reading High School before either came to Princeton.

When Gary would be asked about the lineage, he would speak in biblical terms, saying one "begat" the next, who "begat" the next, and so on.

Back at the start of the 1989-90 season, after Princeton had nearly beaten mighty Georgetown in the NCAA tournament to end the previous season, fans would flock to see the unique group who had almost pulled off the miracle. TB used to compare the Tigers to the Harlem Globetrotters. They were almost a novelty as much as a basketball team to the outside world.

Almost all of what casual fans know about Princeton men's basketball was cemented back then. If they haven't been watching, they haven't seen how differently the team plays now.

Ask Arizona and Missouri. They can vouch for what the modern Tigers are all about.

It's why they're one of 16 teams who are still playing. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Media Day

Mitch Henderson ducked his head into TigerBlog's office yesterday afternoon, said hello, smiled and then said the words that he's said more than any other the last two days or so:

"Can't talk. I have to do an interview in two minutes."

The spoils may belong to the victor. When it comes to the NCAA basketball tournament, the interviews do as well.

Henderson, the Princeton men's basketball coach, has led his team into the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament, where the Tigers will Creighton Friday night at 9 in Louisville. In doing so, everyone in the sports world has wanted to hear from him.

Or from a player. Or an assistant coach. Or even the Director of Operations.

The day started early for Henderson yesterday. He and Tosan Evbuomwan rolled out of Princeton at 6:30 or so to head to New York City to be on the CNN morning show (CNN sent a car for them). This was after they'd already recorded a spot for Good Morning America on Zoom.

It's been an endless parade of requests here since Princeton's history-making wins over Arizona and Missouri propelled the team into the national spotlight. Princeton's men's basketball communications contact Elliott Carr estimated that he'd received more than 100 interview requests just for players, without counting those hoping to speak with the head coach.

It all took TB back to Henderson's playing days, after the Tigers knocked off UCLA in 1996. In the days before cell phones, TB spent all day checking his work voicemail, which would be full after 14 messages. Each time he cleared it and responded to those, there'd be another 14 waiting for him. This went on all day.

Just when he thought it was done, he got back to the hotel to find he had another 50 or so messages there. 

If you look at the history of Princeton Athletics, it's filled with national titles, Olympic medals, professional championships. Where does reaching the NCAA men's basketball Sweet 16 fit in on that list? 

What's harder, reaching the Sweet 16 in men's basketball or winning the NCAA title in, say, field hockey or lacrosse? 

Regardless of the answer, there is no denying two things. First, getting to the Sweet 16 is not easy. To get there out of the Ivy League, you're almost surely going to have to play at least one team in the top 15 or so, if not two.

Second, the media attention that is generated will be enormous. 

It can, in fact, get overwhelming. Back in 1996, after all of the interviews were done and the team was getting ready to go to practice, TB walked in the general direction of Pete Carril, who saw him coming and said "no more interviews."

And that after one NCAA win, not two.

As an aside, TB mentioned it would be with Jerry Izenberg, the longtime Star-Ledger columnist whom TB would say is the greatest sportswriter ever. When TB told Carril that it was with Izenberg, the coach responded with "gotta make time for that guy."

For his part, Henderson has done a great job of using this opportunity to let those who've never met him know what he's all about. He talks about how much he's happy that his players have had this opportunity, how life-changing it is for them. He talks about the great school spirit that embodies Princeton University. He talks about the athletic culture at the school.

You couldn't pay enough for this kind of advertising.

His pride in all of those things is obvious with every word he says. He's also not selling anything. He truly believes all this.

He's obviously a link back to the 1996 season, back to Carril. Henderson is more than that, actually. He's the latest link in the unbroken chain of Princeton basketball that dates back to Cappy Cappon and continued through Butch van Breda Kolff, who coached Carril at Lafayette, and then Gary Walters, who played for Carril at Reading High, and Bill Carmody, who coached with Carril and who was hired by Walters when Walters was AD to replace Carril, to former players John Thompson III, Joe Scott and Sydney Johnson, who all became head coaches, and now to Henderson (who coaches Scott's son Jack, a freshman).

Henderson relishes that history and his place in it, but he is more focused on the present and future. If anything, his tenure will be looked at as the launching of the program into a more modern era, one where his team gets way more offensive rebounds than backdoor layups.

Henderson was able to come back into TB's office and talk for a few minutes. He sat back on the couch in TB's office, which is framed on one side by a poster of Carril, with the saying "What good is being Spanish if you can't chase after windmills," which is TB's favorite Carril quote.

Those days will always matter with Princeton Basketball, and with Henderson. So will these days, these new days, the ones where Henderson has his team in preparation for the Sweet 16.

It wasn't too long before Henderson got up off the couch. 

"I have another interview to do," he said as he walked away.

Monday, March 20, 2023

Something Very, Very Special

The Princeton men's basketball team will play Creighton in the Sweet 16 Friday in Louisville.

Creighton, the sixth-seed in the region, defeated third-seeded Baylor 85-76 Sunday to move on in the tournament. Princeton is the 15th seed.

Creighton and Princeton have exactly one common opponent this season, and that's Arizona, who defeated the Blue Jays 81-79 in the Maui Classic final. That was back on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

Princeton, of course, took down Arizona, the No. 2 seed, in the first round of the NCAA tournament Thursday by a 59-55 count before erupting past seventh-seed Missouri 78-63 Saturday in the second round. 

If you're looking ahead, the winner of the Princeton-Creighton game will play Sunday against the winner of Alabama, the No. 1 overall seed, and San Diego State, the region's fifth seed. The winner of that game will go to the Final Four.

Princeton and Creighton have only played once before, and that was in 1961. Creighton won that one 63-54, which along with the one common opponent results will have zero effect on the game Friday.

There will be no next opponent for the Princeton women's team, not in the 2022-23 season at least. Princeton's season ended Sunday night in Utah, where the Tigers fell 63-56 to the host Utes, the second seed. 

By the way, TigerBlog has a love-hate relationship with the score 63-56. It was by that score that Princeton defeated Penn in the 1996 Ivy playoff game. It was also that score by which Princeton lost to Michigan State in the 1998 NCAA men's second round.

Now you can add the women's loss by the same score in this year's second round.

It's disappointing, obviously. The women would have loved to have join the men in the Sweet 16.

On the other hand, it wasn't for lack of effort. The way that Princeton's women defend, and even more so the way that they play so hard at all times, was extraordinary to see.

It's what gave Princeton its 64-63 win over North Carolina State in the first round Friday night. TB has talked to a bunch of people about that game, and the consensus goes something like this: Wow. 

TB wrote after the game that it was the second most amazing basketball game he's ever seen, and that is definitely the case. Princeton won that game on sheer will, and it was that same will that almost pulled out the game at Utah, a No. 2 seed.

Princeton was down by 14 in the first half. Princeton allowed 20 points in the first quarter. From there? Nothing, not one thing, came easily for Utah.

Remember, Utah is a team that averaged 84.1 points per game, third-best in Division I. It's a team that scored 90 per game on its home court, the Huntsman Center, where the first two rounds were held.

Perhaps no player has ever defined a team culture and identity more than Ellie Mitchell does for the Princeton women's basketball team. She is a blur of energy, a non-stop competitor and a great defender. She never stops. She plays so hard every second of every game that it's hard to imagine where she gets the strength from at the end.

Her performance in Utah this weekend was extraordinary. In two games she had 13 points, but it's the next number that's ridiculous: Mitchell had 29 rebounds. Here's another crazy number: Mitchell had 15 offensive rebounds in two games. You can throw in seven blocked shots and seven steals.

Her battle Sunday night against Utah's Alissa Pili, the Pac 12 Player of the Year, was epic. Mitchell had 18 rebounds. Pili had 27 points, but Mitchell made her work for all of them. 

Kaitlyn Chen had 19 points. Grace Stone, the hero Friday night with her late three, had 16 more.

What the Princeton women's basketball team has built of late is something very, very special. The Tigers had never made it to the NCAA tournament prior to 2010, and yet they've now played in 10 of them.

The Ivy League has four NCAA women's basketball wins all-time, and Princeton now has three of them. There are NCAA wins each of the last two seasons. 

There has been a litany of great players who have played for Princeton during this extended run, when the roster has been turned over and turnover over and turned over. For as great as some of them have been as individuals, they all have bought into the team concept that the program has been built on through these years. It's a compliment to Courtney Banghart, the coach who first took Princeton to the tournament, and now Carla Berube, who is everything you could ever ask for in a head coach.

TB has written that Berube is laid back and intense at the same time, and she is definitely both of those. The program has completely energized its fan base, which has grown exponentially through the years. Now, a Princeton women's basketball game is an event.

There was no Sweet 16 to be had this time around. Will the Tigers get there? They've come very, very close the last two years, falling by one to Indiana a year ago and now by seven to Utah.

The end of the game stung, but it was hard not to, once again, be impressed by the Princeton women. 

If you thought they'd go quietly after the win the other night and after being down 14 points to one of the best teams in the country, you haven't been paying attention. 

This isn't an "oh well, we did our best" group. This is an "I don't care what the scoreboard says; there's still time on the clock, so we don't let up" group.

Like TB said, they're very, very special.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

A Night Of History, And Glory

It's been a week since Jadwin Gym hosted the Ivy League basketball tournaments.

A week. It seems like that was another lifetime ago. 

Remember the storylines? Would Princeton be able to beat Penn for a third time on the season and a second time in six days? No, many thought. That's asking too much, not after Penn lost that 19-point lead in the regular season finale with a share of the Ivy title on the line. Beating Penn again? That was too much to ask.

Even after that task was completed, there was the matter of beating Yale. This was going to be too much to ask too. Yale had eased past Cornell in its semifinal, didn't have to exert itself and had a few hours more rest than Princeton. The matchup wasn't great. The intangibles all favored Yale.

How long ago that seems, right? 

That same Princeton men's basketball team, the one that may have been written off a bit by some, or many, before the Ivy tournament, has in a matter of days done something completely extraordinary, something that is historic in every way. 

Princeton is going to the Sweet 16. 

Who saw this coming when the Ivy tournament tipped off? In contrast to its first round win over Arizona, which was a nailbiter in every sense of the word, Princeton raced past Missouri 78-63, taking the game between two dens of Tigers to reach the Sweet 16. The margin of victory was the most ever by a 15 seed in the NCAA tournament. 

And so now it's on to the Sweet 16. It's one of those things that you keep writing for two reasons: 1) because it sounds so great and 2) because the more you write it, the more real it becomes.

Yes. It's real. Princeton will play the winner of Sunday's game between Creighton and Baylor this coming Friday in Louisville. Princeton joins Cornell's 2010 team as the only Ivy League teams to reach the Sweet 16 since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.

And were that the only big story of the night for Princeton, it would have been plenty. But no, you can't only talk about men's basketball, not on a night when Princeton Wrestling produced an NCAA champion.

Patrick Glory became Princeton's second NCAA champ and first in 72 years when he won the 125-pound title with a 4-1 decision over Purdue's Matt Ramos.

And yes, this was about Patrick Glory, but it was also about Princeton coaches Chris Ayres, Sean Gray and Joe Dubuque. They have worked tirelessly to get their program off the mat in the first place and then bring it to national relevance. They never stopped believing, and Glory's reward was theirs as well. 

As the final buzzer sounded, Glory fell to his back and took it all in. It was a bit surreal, much like it was to watch the men's basketball team.

It was a huge Princeton party in Sacramento for this one. And now the party gets to keep on going.

Princeton is going to the Sweet 16.

TigerBlog watched the game on his computer during the men's lacrosse team's game against Penn Saturday at the same time. It's hard to say he watched it, actually. He kept switching the screen, checking in on the game, seeing Princeton was still ahead, and then turning it off. It was almost hard to watch. It was so close. It was so historic. He was afraid to see it slip away.

By the under-eight timeout of the second half, TB finally believed that it was done. It was surreal. Princeton pulled away and never let up, completely imposing its will on Missouri. The numbers were staggering — Princeton 44, Missouri 30 in rebounds, Princeton 12-6 in made threes, and the most insane one of all, Princeton 19-2 in second-chance points. 

As TB said after the win over Arizona, this wasn't a game won because Princeton outsmarted anyone. It's insulting to say that. Princeton won these two games by being more physical, more relentless, more determined.

By the way, if you think Missouri is just another team, this is a team that beat, among others, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois and Iowa State during the season (and Penn). 

The individual performances were also amazing. Ryan Langborg with 22. Blake Peters with 17 points in just 14 minutes; he's now 8 for 13 from three in the NCAA tournament. Tosan Evbuowman had nine points, nine rebounds and five assists. Matt Allocco had 10 points and seven assists. Keeshawn Kellman had eight points, six rebounds and a whole lot of assertive physicality that certainly got Missouri's attention.

And then there was Caden Pierce. All the Ivy League Rookie of the Year did was score nine points and add 16 rebounds. Is 16 a lot of rebounds? The Princeton NCAA tournament record is held by Al Kaemmerlen, who had 18 against St. Bonaventure in 1961. Bill Bradley had 17 against Wichita State in the 1965 consolation game and 16 against St. Joe's in 1963. Craig Robinson also had 16, against Oklahoma State in 1983. 

And that's the entire list of Princeton players who reached 16 rebounds in an NCAA game.

This was already a legendary weekend for Princeton Basketball after the men and women both won their opening round games, using 9-0 runs to come from behind to win. The women will play Sunday night at 7 against Utah on the Utes' home court.

Never before had an Ivy League school had its men's and women's teams both win NCAA games in the same year. That alone would have been enough, right? 

But now the men play on. And the women have their chance to match the men. It's another big-time challenge, as Utah won the Pac-12 tournament last week. 

Ah, but last week. That's so long ago, who can even remember it?

This is this week, this weekend, a weekend of history, and of Glory, a weekend that will never be forgotten at Princeton. 


Double The Madness

This was double the Madness, and TigerBlog isn't really sure quite what he means by that.

Was it "double the Madness," as in Princeton's women followed up the men's win Thursday over Arizona with one of their own, taking down North Carolina State 64-63?

Or was it "double the Madness," as in "this was twice as much Madness as the day before."

Maybe it's a New Jersey thing. You have the two Princeton wins, and you can throw in FDU's win over Purdue, marking only the second time a 16 has beaten a 1 on the men's side? 

Is it triple the madness?

The 15th-seeded Princeton men's team came from 12 back in the second half to beat Arizona, the second seed, 59-55 Thursday, and if you thought that game and the FDU game were wild, then you should have been glued to the women's game Friday night.

For TigerBlog's money, this was the second-most improbable win he's ever seen in a basketball game (it's going to be really hard to top the comeback the men had against Penn in 1999 at the Palestra and all). That game aside, the women's win over North Carolina State was ridiculous, and it was accomplished for one reason — effort. 

Princeton came from eight down, at 63-55, with 5:44 to go. So what, you say? A lot of teams do that. 

Yes, they do. They don't do them the way Princeton did. This was a one in a, hmm, one in a million? No. One in a thousand? Hard to say. 

How about a one in 24? Or should that be "1 for 24?"

After a 10-0 run to start the third quarter that turned a 41-35 Princeton deficit into a 45-41 lead, the Tigers suddenly went cold from the field. Forget that. Cold doesn't begin to describe it. Princeton went the kind of cold you see in war movies. 

First, Princeton missed 14 shots in a row. That's right. That's 14 straight. Finally, the Tigers ended that streak — only to miss their next nine. That's a 1 for 24 stretch.

You had a 1 for 24 stretch and you won an NCAA tournament game against a team that reached the Elite Eight a year ago? 

Wait, there's more. The same basket that was locked on the inside for Princeton was welcoming in every shot NC State tossed up in the first half. 

In fact, the Wolfpack, after missing their first seven, made 17 of their final 22 of the first half. That's a .773 shooting percentage by a team that shot 43 percent for the season, against a team that held its opponents to 37 percent for the season.

So make that "you had a 1 for 24 stretch and the other team had a 17 for 22 stretch and you won an NCAA tournament game?" The odds of that are a lot greater than 1 in 24.

So there was Princeton, down 63-55 with 5:44 to go. What happened after that was extraordinary. What happened after that is the kind of thing that you don't see too often.

Princeton appeared to be running on fumes. The shots it missed were good ones. There were layups. There were open threes. It didn't matter who it was, where it was. Nothing was falling. The team seemed beaten.

And then it all flipped on a dime. Princeton summoned another wind and upped its defensive intensity by a factor of a lot. Nothing was allowed for NC State. From 63-55, Princeton forced 0 for 5 shooting and five NC State turnovers.

For all that, it wouldn't have mattered had the offense not gotten restarted.

First Grace Stone nailed a three, making it a 63-58 game. The Kaitlyn Chen did the same. Suddenly it was 63-61, with less than a minute to go. Could Princeton finish it off? Yes. How? By getting a steal from Stone with 11 seconds to go and then, out of a timeout, a perfect screen from Madison St. Rose freed up Stone for another three, a no-doubt-about-it three, a one-for-the-history-books three.

Would NC State spoil it by scoring in its last possession, with 4.7 to go. Uh, no. Princeton didn't even let the Wolfpack get a shot off.

Stone and Chen had 22 each. Julia Cunningham had 14, with eight assists.

The most important player, though, had to be Ellie Mitchell. She simply willed the team to find more energy, to keep upping the defensive intensity, to track down every loose ball. Her final stat line: four points, 11 rebounds, four blocked shots, five steals. What you can't measure if the impact she had on everyone else.

For Princeton, that's two straight NCAA tournament first-round wins. It's also the first time an Ivy League school has won NCAA tournament games in the men's and women's fields in the same year. 

The men will take on Missouri later today (6:10) in Sacramento. The women will play Utah tomorrow on the Utes' home court; Utah defeated Gardner Webb 103-77 in the first round.

John Mack, the Ford Family Director of Athletics, was in California Thursday and then went to Utah for the women's game. Now he's back to Sacramento for the men and then back to Utah for the women. 

Hey, double the Madness requires that.