Monday, January 10, 2022

Happy Birthday

There is one obvious problem that Matt Allocco has after the way his Saturday night at Jadwin Gym went.

What in the world is he going to be able to do to have a better birthday than that one?

In case you didn't hear yet (and TigerBlog will guess that nobody reading today hasn't heard yet), Allocco made his first career start for the Princeton men's basketball team something incredibly special Saturday night. Allocco had a career-high 14 points (his first career double-figure game), and oh by the way, he also ended up on SportsCenter.

It was Allocco who tossed in the long three-pointer that splashed through just as the backboard turned red, giving Princeton a 72-70 win over Cornell.

By the way, that's a great call by Derek Jones, who was great all night, along with Noah Savage.

There is so much to stay about Princeton's sweep of Columbia and Cornell this weekend, which started with the 84-69 win over the Lions. In both games, Princeton trailed by double figures at halftime, by 12 Friday and 14 Saturday. In fact, Princeton trailed Cornell by as many as 18 in the second half before rallying.

Put the two games together, and Princeton was outscored 84-58 in the two first halves and then outscored the other two 98-55 in the two second halves. 

Then there was the fact that Brian Earl is the Cornell head coach. If there is anyone who can appreciate a great Princeton comeback, it's Brian Earl, who was the main reason why the Tigers came back from 27 down in the second half against Penn to win in 1999.

Much like all future Matt Allocco birthdays, all Princeton basketball comebacks since that night at the Palestra can never really match up. The one against Cornell was up there, though, along with that game against Penn State in the 2013-14 season, when the Tigers came back from 20 down with less than 10 minutes to go to force OT and then win 81-79.

If you recall the 2013 game, Will Barrett led the Tigers with 24, shooting 6 of 11 from three. 

Back in 1999, it was Earl who led the Tigers with 20 points. Princeton trailed 33-9 at the half in that game, and it grew to 40-13 with 15 minutes left. Princeton won 50-49.

And there was Earl Saturday night, again in Jadwin Gym, watching another great Tiger comeback. Of anyone who has ever competed against Princeton, Earl is the toughest to root against for TB, and he assumes most Princeton fans (it wasn't easy rooting against Bill Tierney when Denver lacrosse played on Sherrerd Field either).

Earl was a beloved Princeton player, on some great Tiger teams. He was also a teammate of Tiger head coach Mitch Henderson, and they have always stayed close.

The bigger picture from the weekend is that Princeton is now 2-0 in the league. No other team is unbeaten, unless you consider Yale, who is 0-0. There have already been some scores that make predicting how the race will go difficult, such as "Cornell beat Dartmouth who beat Brown who beat Harvard but lost to Penn, who in turn lost to Columbia."

Maybe the best prediction to make is that every win is crucial. That's why getting a weekend sweep when trailing by double figures at the half both times is huge for Princeton.

And then there is Allocco, a sophomore from Ohio who had only scored more than two points in three games prior to Saturday. This time, he shot 6 for 9 from the field, 2 for 3 from three, and added four rebounds to his 14 points.

The final 1:08 of the game saw four lead changes, including one when Cornell went up 70-69 on Dean Noll's driving layup with four seconds to go. From there the last chance found its way to Allocco (it was a great piece of awareness from Ryan Langborg to whip the ball to Allocco), who was off balance as he got rid of the ball. 

The win wasn't official until after the officials reviewed the play, and the light clearly didn't go until after the ball had left Allocco's hand. A few hours later, his play was all over ESPN.

And so it was a happy birthday, the happiest of birthdays, for Matt Allocco.

And the end of a huge weekend for Princeton.

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