The Princeton men’s basketball team is returning to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2017 after holding off Yale, 74-65, in the Ivy Madness championship game Sunday before a partisan crowd of 3,607 at Jadwin Gym.
The second-seeded Tigers (21-8) ended a three-game losing streak in the series and avenged two difficult regular-season losses to the top-seeded Bulldogs (21-8) to earn the Ivy League’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers, seeded 15th in the NCAA bracket’s South Region, will play No. 2 seed Arizona on Thursday in Sacramento, California.
“We want to represent with a good group of guys on a national level,” said Princeton coach Mitch Henderson ’98. “We’re really excited to be doing this. I’m so proud of this group.”
The Bulldogs defeated Princeton in both regular-season meetings this year, winning by 22 in the first meeting at Yale and overcoming a 19-point Tigers edge in the final eight minutes for an overtime win Feb. 18 at Jadwin. In their first meeting this year, the Tigers were done in by a 15-0 run midway through the second half. In their second meeting, at Jadwin on Feb. 18, Princeton led by 19 points with eight minutes left before Yale closed regulation with a 26-7 run to force overtime and pull away. Yale also beat Princeton in last year’s Ivy tournament final.
“You don’t really stop thinking about that, losing in the final, it being so close and it being taken away from you,” said Tosan Evbuomwan ’23.
Princeton jumped out to an early lead in the team’s third matchup this year and played ahead most of the game. Yale had the lead for less than a full minute of game time and never led in the second half as Princeton finished the job it hadn’t in their last meeting.
“The guys were amazing,” Evbuomwan said. “It means the world. I think it was a great performance from us and everyone chipped in. Everyone made huge plays down the stretch, and we just can’t wait to celebrate and lock in again later this week.”
Named the Tournament Most Outstanding Player, Evbuomwan, the forward from Newcastle, England, had 21 points, five rebounds and four assists to pull ahead of Henderson for eighth in all-time assists at Princeton. He made just as big a contribution at the other end by holding Yale’s John Poulakidas, who scored 25 points in their semifinal win over Cornell, scoreless in the first half and to seven points for the game.
“Everyone knows offensively Tosan is pretty special, but today in particular I thought he was unbelievable,” said Matt Allocco ’24. “When he plays like that, he’s the best player in league on both ends. He was terrific. He just carried us, willed us there.”
Caden Pierce ’26, who was also named to the All-Tournament Team, finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds. It was the freshman’s seventh double-double of the season and third straight.
“People say he’s young, he’s a freshman,” Allocco said. “But forget all that. He’s a winner.”
Allocco had 15 points in his biggest scoring game since Feb. 17 to go with seven rebounds and hounding defense. His three 3-pointers were the most for the junior guard since Jan. 14. Ryan Langborg ’23 gave Princeton a fourth player in double figures with 14 points and added four assists.
The Tigers opened with a 12-0 lead on Langborg’s four points, Evbuomwan’s spin move and 3-pointer, and a 3 from Allocco. Yale countered with an 11-0 run before a three-point play by Evbuomwan.
Allocco’s third 3-pointer of the first half gave Princeton a 23-18 lead but seven straight points by the Bulldogs gave Yale its first lead of the game, 25-23. Evbuomwan tied it up less than a minute later.
Pierce, scoreless through the first 18 minutes, hit a 3-pointer, a contested putback and, after a big collision between Zach Martini and a Yale player, a 3-pointer at the buzzer for a 33-29 Princeton lead at halftime.
“We executed all game,” Evbuomwan said. “It really started in the first four minutes. We got ourselves off to great start and it set the tone for the whole game.”
Princeton stretched its lead to 10 points on a pair of Langborg 3-pointers, another 3-pointer from Zach Martini ’24 and back-to-back finishes in the lane by Evbuomwan. After Yale cut the Princeton lead to five points, a Pierce dunk made it 55-48, and he took his second charge of the game. Bez Mbeng, who scored 18 points to lead Yale, hit a 3-pointer and a layup to push the Bulldogs within three points with three minutes left.
Allocco hit a pair of free throws, as did Pierce after grabbing an offensive rebound with 1:14 left. Then over the final minute, the Tigers made 9-of-12 free throws to seal the title.
Princeton last won the Ivy tournament title in the inaugural year of its existence in 2017. This weekend is the first time in Ivy Madness history that Princeton has hosted.
“It seems a neutral environment because both teams get a good support system, but we know in the back of our minds it was our gym and we had a ton of support there,” Allocco said. “We’ve been saying all day, when things get tight, just listen to the crowd and we have all that support behind us.”
The title was all the more special coming just shy of eight months since the death of legendary Princeton coach Pete Carril. The Tigers have worn bowtie patches on their jerseys in his honor all season.
“He likes to see teams improve and get better,” Henderson said. “A lot of this is honoring him. There’s a through line of him. We have that picture of him up in the rafters. He’d be very proud.”