Wednesday, August 19, 2020

TigerBlog, March 15, 1996

As promised earlier this week, TigerBlog is embarking on a once-weekly venture to write a piece on a game that happened before this blog was born in 2008. 

At least he's going to try it anyway. Today is the first. He doesn't have a name for the series or anything. Maybe he'll come up with one. Maybe not.

Either way, he actually thought of three possible games that he could use as the first for his new series. Even now, as he's writing this intro, he's still not sure which of three he'll go with, but hey, he better make up his mind soon.

Also, the invitation is out there for anyone who wants to try his or her hand at doing this. All you have to do is let TB know and then write 700 or so words about any game you'd like.

And he's figured out which game to go with, so here it is:

TigerBlog ... March 15, 1996

TigerBlog was kneeling near where the baseline and sideline came together, opposite the Princeton men's basketball bench, at the RCA Dome last night, with somewhere between two and four seconds to play in the opening round game of the NCAA tournament between the Tigers and UCLA.

A few moments earlier, Steve Goodrich had threaded a perfect backdoor pass to Gabe Lewullis, who converted the layup to put Princeton up 43-41. At that point, Andrea Joyce, the CBS sideline reporter, told TB that she needed to grab Pete Carril as soon as the game ended - if Princeton won. 

As such, she and TB settled down on the far side of the court, so that they could immediately get to the coach should Princeton indeed hang on. It was either going to be one of the greatest moments in Princeton Athletics history, or one of the biggest heartaches. There would be no middle ground.

It had been quite a few days for Carril and Princeton basketball, that's for sure. It was less than a week ago that Princeton defeated Penn 63-56 at Lehigh in the Ivy playoff for the automatic NCAA bid, ending an eight-game losing streak to the archrival Quakers in the process.

And when it ended, that was hardly the biggest story. Nope, that came when Carril casually scribbled "I'm retiring. I'm very happy" on the old blackboard in the Princeton lockerroom after the game. TB was the first person to see what Carril had written, and he immediately thought "well, the large gathering in the media room has no idea what's about to happen."

And now it was only five days later, and here was Carril, in Indianapolis, trying to prolong a career that had seen him win 513 games and 13 Ivy titles in 29 years at Princeton.

It didn't start out looking all that promising for the Tigers. They were down 7-0 at the first media timeout, when it seemed like it was going to be a long night in Indy.

But then Princeton tightened. And UCLA, the defending NCAA champion, couldn't adjust. 

Princeton hardly played a perfect game, far from it. The Tigers shot 37 percent for the night and just 4 for 15 from three-point range, but what they did do is keep UCLA from ever getting into anything resembling a rhythm. 

Even when the Bruins built a 41-34 lead with five minutes to go, nothing seemed out of hand. And then UCLA's Kris Johnson missed a gimme, and Sydney Johnson answered with a very long three-pointer, and suddenly it was a four-point game. 

Then Goodrich tied in on a reverse layup off a pass from Chris Doyal, and now it was 41-39. And then Doyal came up with a steal, and the ball ended up in Mitch Henderson's hands. And then Henderson bounced a pass perfectly to Johnson - the two of them are like having additional coaches on the court - and Johnson made it a 41-41 game.

For the next three minutes or so there was a lot of sloppiness - and some good fortune for Princeton, as Cameron Dollar missed a pair of foul shots after an intentional foul call, and then Goodrich rebounded another Bruin miss (the Bruins shot 8 for 21 in the second half), giving the Tigers the ball and a chance to take the lead.

And take the lead Princeton did, as Lewullis made one fake cut and then doubled back, creating just enough space for Goodrich to slip the ball in. And the freshman Lewullis didn't miss, putting the Tigers up 43-41.

With how much time left? Good question.

UCLA advanced the ball across midcourt, though it's not really clear when a timeout was called and where the ball was at the time. And so the officials went to the monitor.

It ended up being about a seven-minute delay until the game resumed. Originally, there were 1.3 seconds on the clock, with UCLA to trigger sideline out of bounds on the Princeton end. It was clear that Lewullis' shot went in with 3.9 seconds to go. It was also clear that the timeout came before 1.3.

During the long discussion, TB stayed glued to his spot, along with Joyce. She never took sides, saying that she was hoping Princeton held on or anything, but it's clear that was what was in her heart.

If that's what was in her heart, then there was TB's heart, which was racing. And there was this nagging voice in his head that kept saying "if UCLA pulls this out, that's really, really going to suck."

Again, there would be no middle ground. Elation or total devastation. There would be no other option.

Then the clock was set to 2.2 seconds. Another timeout, this time by Carril.

And finally, finally, it was time to play. TB could barely watch. The huge crowd would tell him what happened anyway. Other than a few UCLA fans - including Indiana Pacers guard Reggie Miller, a Bruin alum - the entire crowd of nearly 30,000 was pulling loudly for the Tigers.

No, he figured. He'll watch.

And so he did. And the ball went into Toby Bailey, the hero of the 1995 NCAA title. And then he spun and got himself free and put a shot up from the baseline.

And it hung in the air forever. TB has never seen a shot take longer to figure out if it was going in or not.

And then ... it didn't.

Final score, Princeton 43, UCLA 41.

This game will be talked about forever in NCAA tournament circles. It instantly takes its place as one of the signature games in the history of the tournament and in Princeton history. 

More importantly, it advances Princeton to the second round, against Mississippi State.

Most importantly, Pete Carril gets to coach another game.

1 comment:

Steven J. Feldman '68 said...

How about "Going Back" for a title for your series? That would not only be an appropriate name for your series but also work in one of Princeton's most iconic sports fight songs "Going Back to Nassau Hall."