Caden Pierce ’26 rises for a dunk in the Ivy League Tournament. Pierce led Princeton with 22 points against UNLV in the NIT.
Lem Photography
Jadwin Gym crowd applauds men’s basketball seniors Matt Allocco and Zach Martini one more time

UNLV repeatedly staved off a series of second half Princeton rallies, ending the men’s basketball team’s 2023-24 campaign with an 84-77 defeat in the opening round of the National Invitation Tournament.

It was Princeton’s first home loss of the season and its first defeat inside Jadwin Gym since February 2023 in overtime versus Yale.

“It was hard to watch tonight because I didn’t think we were us,” head coach Mitch Henderson ’98 said. “[It was] a tough way to end the season. I thought we could keep winning, but man, what a pleasure to be around this group.”

Rob Whaley Jr. scored a career-high 21 points in 27 minutes on a perfect 8-8 shooting for the Runnin’ Rebels, aided by 18 points and 11 rebounds by Keylan Boone. 

Down by two at the break following a fast-paced, spirited opening 20 minutes where both teams shot better than 50% from the field, UNLV used terrific perimeter passing to open up the game with an 11-4 push, including a trio of three pointers for Boone, Justin Webster, and Shane Nowell that provided the visitors an advantage they would never relinquish.

Princeton, utilizing a swarming 1-3-1 zone defense that got both their team and a lean but energetic announced home crowd of 1,708 back into it, closed from down 11 to within four on a steal and lay-up from Ivy League Player of the Year Caden Pierce ’26 with 10:34 to go. 

Undaunted, UNLV — which was without the services of two double-digit scorers — answered with nine straight, starting with a quick wing pop from outside versus the zone by Webster, and the Tigers were scraping to get within a single possession the rest of the night, again unable to get their deficit inside four in the last minute.

Like five days prior in the semifinals of the Ivy League Tournament versus Brown, Princeton was able to turn their opponent over to create opportunities (the Tigers finished with 13 steals) but could not find that one extra basket or get that last defensive stop to complete their comeback as they were ultimately outscored 48-39 in the second half.

The visitors from Nevada, playing their first postseason basketball in 11 years, had a bit of an extra spark, and their combination of length and speed was too much for Princeton.

“We just didn’t have it,” Henderson said. “That team is kryptonite for us. The ball was just flying around. …We’ve been double-teaming and having lots of success all season in stopping rotations. Holy cow, they were playing with missiles and we were playing with sticks.”

With just over five seconds to go and the outcome decided, Henderson replaced his two spent seniors, Matt Allocco and Zach Martini, for an ovation. This Princeton senior class was a part of three consecutive Ivy League regular season titles and played a huge role in the Tigers’ Sweet 16 run in 2022-23.

“When I got into coaching, you just wish you can have guys like this in your program,” said Henderson about his gritty senior duo. “We were punching above our weight all season and it showed up tonight … . We just lost some juice here at the end, but that doesn’t take away from what this group is and does.”

Martini connected five times in 11 tries from behind the arc for 17 points but the rest of his usually sure-shooting teammates were a combined 7-26 from three (26.9%). First-team All-Ivy guard Xaivian Lee ’26 missed all six of his tries from deep, including a look with eight seconds remaining that could have made it a two point game. Freshman Dalen Davis, who led a valiant charge with 21 second-half points against Brown, recorded a lone basket.

Pierce led all scorers with 22 points.

Talking to the media after his team’s final loss of the season, Henderson acknowledged that Lee, Davis, and Allocco were all dealing with different injuries, with Allocco’s ailments dating back to mid-December, prior to the start of Ivy League play.

“We couldn’t stop [UNLV],” Henderson added. “They were so much bigger and faster. We hadn’t had that happen to us all season. Kudos to them.”

Princeton finishes the season with a 24-5 record, champions of the Ivy League but on the wrong side of their last two contests against more physical foes.