Princeton men’s basketball’s ninth straight win over Penn earned the Tigers a spot in the Ivy Madness tournament championship — and a rematch with 2022 tournament champion Yale.
Playing again less than a week after the Tigers rallied from a 19-point deficit for an overtime win over Penn to earn a share of their second straight Ivy League regular-season title, second-seeded Princeton advanced to the tournament title game with a 77-70 win over third-seeded Penn on Saturday at Jadwin Gym.
“It came down to a handful of possessions there right at the very end,” said Princeton coach Mitch Henderson ’98. “I’m really proud of these guys, and one more for us.”
Princeton will play Yale for the title and the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament noon Sunday at Jadwin Gym. The top-seeded Bulldogs, an 80-60 winner over Cornell in the first semifinal, defeated Princeton in both regular-season meetings, the second time by overcoming a 19-point Tigers edge for an overtime win at Jadwin Feb. 18. Yale, which has won the last two Ivy tournaments including over Princeton in last year’s championship, has won nine of the last 10 meetings in the series. Princeton is looking for its first crown since winning the inaugural title in 2017.
“This one’s been circled for a while since we lost last year,” said Tigers forward Tosan Evbuomwan ’23. “We’re excited about the game and really looking forward to it and getting another opportunity to win that one and do what we’ve dreamt of, do what we’ve been working towards the whole season.”
After Caden Pierce ’26 scored a layup to give Princeton a 69-68 lead with 2:46 left, Evbuomwan scored the final two field goals for the Tigers to keep them ahead for good. Last year’s Ivy League Player of the Year and a unanimous First-Team All-Ivy selection again his year, he finished with 21 points, six rebounds, and four assists. He insisted that his production was no sort of statement after Penn’s Jordan Dingle was named the 2023 Ivy Player of the Year.
“My focus remains on the team,” Evbuomwan said. “Last year, the Player of the Year went home early, and his team. So it doesn’t mean much to me at this point. We’re focused on getting it done tomorrow.”
Pierce, Princeton’s first Ivy Rookie of the Year since Spencer Weisz ’17 in 2014, had 14 points and 12 rebounds for his sixth double-double of the season. His final two rebounds — one at the offensive end to give the Tigers another possession and one on the defensive end — came in the final 45 seconds.
“He just rebounds with two hands and aggression,” Henderson said. “He’s the best rebounder I’ve ever seen that’s played for me. And he’s so humble about it. So it rubs off. This kid’s churning out double-doubles like it’s something easy.”
Ryan Langborg ’23 and Zach Martini ’24 had 12 points apiece. Martini tied his career best with four made 3-pointers. He combined with starter Keeshawn Kellman ’23 to give the Tigers major production at the center spot. Kellman was 3-for-3 from the floor for seven points and pulled down 10 rebounds, including a momentum building offensive rebound in the final three minutes. He also drew a charge to cause a key Penn turnover.
“I thought he was unbelievable,” Henderson said. “He really helped. He got an offensive rebound at the very end and took a charge. He was awesome. We’ve been waiting for this, and I’m so proud of him. He was terrific.”
After a tight first half with Penn holding the largest lead of six points, the second half saw more back and forth play. Kellman had three of his points in an 8-2 Princeton run midway through the second half as the Tigers took a 58-52 lead only to see Penn answer with a 9-0 run.
Pierce’s layup off Langborg’s heads-up long outlet pass over the retreating defense gave Princeton a one-point lead. Pierce was fouled on the finish, and Kellman rebounded his ensuing free throw miss. Evbuomwan’s lay-in followed, giving Princeton a 71-68 lead with 2:28 left. Penn cut the Princeton lead to one point and could have taken the lead but Kellman took a charge on a driving Nick Spinoso at the 1:23 mark.
“Keeshawn took his first charge of his career,” Henderson said. “Heck of a time to get one.”
Princeton bought another possession on a ball out of bounds thanks to aggressive offensive rebounding. Pierce then snagged an offensive rebound with 45 seconds to go, and Evbuomwan’s lefty hook gave Princeton a 73-70 edge with 30.4 seconds left after a timeout.
“I appreciate my teammates and coaching staff a lot,” Evbuomwan said. “They give me a lot of confidence to make those plays in those big moments.”
Princeton forced Penn into a highly contested 3-pointer from Dingle, who led Penn with 19 points despite attentive defense from Matt Allocco ’23, and Pierce was fouled after the rebound. His two free throws made it a two-possession game with 11.9 seconds left, and Xaivian Lee ’26 added two more free throws for the final score after getting fouled, ending any chance of a late Penn comeback.
“This whole season has been incredible, learning one game at a time, getting better each and every game,” Pierce said. “It’s all new for us. What we’ve experienced, we’re hoping to experience going forward again.”
It’s the first time in the five-year Ivy Madness history that Princeton has hosted, and it has brought back a who’s who of alumni to cheer on Princeton. Former Princeton head coach John Thompson III ’88 was among those in attendance, and the Ivy League honored Kit Mueller ’91 for his outstanding career during a break in the game. Princeton is hoping to see another supportive crowd Sunday as it plays for a berth in the NCAA tournament. The Tigers played in the NIT in 2022.
“We’ve just about seen everything this year,” said Evbuomwan. “And we always have belief that we’re going to win. We’ve come back from deficits all year, we’ve won close games, we’ve let some slip. All those games, including the last one, have prepared us for this point and going into tomorrow.”