Early turnovers, hot-shooting Bears knock the Tigers out in the semifinal round

Dalen Davis ’27 drives to the basket against Brown.
Dalen Davis ’27 drives to the basket against Brown. Davis’ offense led the Tigers’ second-half surge.
Lem Photography

Princeton men’s basketball, one of the upset kings of last year’s NCAA Tournament, found itself on the opposite side of a first-round surprise in the Ivy League Tournament Saturday, falling 90-81 to No. 4 seed Brown at Columbia’s Levien Gymnasium. The loss likely ends the Tigers’ hope for a return to the NCAA field.

Freshman Dalen Davis dazzled with 21 points in the second half, almost single-handedly drawing the Tigers back from a deficit that at one point ballooned to 22 points. Matt Allocco ’24, who finished with 20 points, sank a 3-pointer with 44 seconds left to pull the Tigers back to within 3, 84-81. But those would be Princeton’s final points. The Bears made free throws, broke Princeton’s full-court pressure, and sealed the game in the waning seconds.

Kino Lilly Jr., Brown’s top scorer, finished with 27 points, 10 assists, and no turnovers. The Bears’ starting forwards, Nana Owusu-Anane and Kalu Anya, combined for 32 points and 26 rebounds.

Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson ’98 was brief and matter-of-fact in his postgame remarks. “We turned the ball over early, which is dangerous,” he said. “We were playing the hottest team in the league on a neutral court, and they were really on fire.”

Matt Allocco drives, dribbling with his left hand
Matt Allocco ’24
Lem Photography

The Ivy League has branded its postseason tournaments, now in their sixth year, as “Ivy Madness,” and they’ve certainly featured the competitive, taut games that define March Madness writ large. But upsets had been hard to come by: Until Saturday, no No. 4 seed had ever won a tournament game in either the men’s or women’s draw.

Princeton won the league’s regular season championship, along with the No. 1 seed, and in its three-team title race with Yale and Cornell, Brown was something of an afterthought. When the Tigers last faced them Feb. 16, they beat the Bears 72-63 and knocked them down to 2-6 in Ivy play. But Brown won its next six games, including road victories at Cornell and Yale, and entered the postseason as a dangerous opponent, despite its 12-17 record.

“They’re a confident group,” Brown head coach Mike Martin said. “I think you have to be confident to go through what we’ve gone through and still find ourselves here.”

Princeton trailed by 13 at halftime (44-31), and at the start of the second half, things only got worse as Owusu-Anane, Anya, and Lilly kept the ball moving to find open shots inside and outside the paint. Henderson switched his defense, first to a 1-3-1 zone and then to the full-court press, which generated some turnovers to aid the comeback bid. But Brown settled for whatever shots were available and made their share — Lilly in particular.

“It helps to have a guy like Kino Lilly,” Martin said. “When you’re struggling, he can bail you out. When you don’t run good offense, he can bail you out.”

For Princeton, the loss marked the end of Ivy play for two seniors, Zach Martini ’24 and Allocco, known to his teammates and coaches as “Mush.”

“I said to Zach and Mush that I’ve never been more proud of two seniors that epitomize Princeton basketball, everything that we care about and stand for,” Henderson said. “I hope that they can get over this and realize the legacy and impact that they’ve made for us.”

Martini and Allocco were among the major players in Princeton’s 2023 Sweet 16 run, led the Tigers to a 24-3 regular season record this year, and played on three consecutive Ivy League championship teams.

When asked about the possibility of playing in the NIT or another postseason tournament, Henderson said his team hadn’t been thinking about that. Princeton last played in the NIT in 2022, after it fell to Yale in the Ivy Tournament final.