SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Perhaps there is something in the air in Sacramento.

On Thursday, in the city where Pete Carril spent his final years as a coach, Princeton men’s basketball pulled off one of the most memorable upsets in March Madness history, defeating Arizona 59–55.

“He’d just be very proud of the group,” said head coach Mitch Henderson ’98 — a member of Carril’s 1996 team that beat UCLA, as well as the 1998 team responsible for Princeton’s last NCAA Tournament win — when prompted on what he imagined would be the late coach’s reaction to the win. “He wouldn’t want any attention to be brought anywhere else other than what these guys did.”

Even though Henderson’s teams have played at a much quicker pace than Carril’s, one imagines that the late coach would have enjoyed the style of Thursday’s win. Indeed, despite both teams having strong offenses — especially Arizona, who entered the tournament fourth in the nation in scoring — Thursday’s matchup developed into a highly defensive game reminiscent of the 1996 UCLA upset, with the two teams combining for just 22 points over the last eight minutes.

Princeton took its first lead, 56-55, on a Ryan Langborg ’23 right-handed runner with 2:03 remaining, defended well on Arizona’s next three possessions, and added to its advantage with two Caden Pierce ’26 free throws with 0:21 left. Arizona missed a pair of 3-pointers as the clock ran down. Tosan Evbuomwan ’23, who led the Tigers with 15 points, grabbed a defensive rebound, was fouled, and made his first free throw to clinch the game.

After coming close to tournament victories in both 2011 and 2017 — both of which were two-point losses, reminiscent of many of the close calls of the late ’80s and early ’90s under Carril, the Tigers are in the win column for 21st-century March Madness games.

“I remember when [the UCLA win] happened, [Carril] had lost a lot of first round games, and these games were very difficult to win,” Henderson said.

Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson ’98 embraces guard Matt Allocco ’23 after the win over Arizona
Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson ’98 embraces guard Matt Allocco ’24 after the win over Arizona. Henderson is the first Tiger to win NCAA Tournament games as a player and head coach.
AP Photo/José Luis Villegas

The Tigers entered the game as clear underdogs — down double digits on the point spread and the choice of just over four percent of March Madness bracket entrances in the game. They were further reminded of their status as the little guy when the PA announcer flubbed two names in the starting lineup, referring to Pierce as Caden “Prince” and mispronouncing Matt Allocco ’24’s name.

“It’s Allocco,” the Hilliard, Ohio, native shouted as he ran towards midcourt after his introduction.

Nobody seemed to hear him, but in a matter of hours, his name, and those of his teammates, would be familiar in households across the country. Although Allocco — and the team, for that matter — struggled to score throughout the game, it was their defensive effort that allowed them to become just the 11th 15-seed to win an NCAA Tournament game.

Wilson Conn ’25, one of The Daily Princetonian’s head sports editors, is covering the NCAA Tournament games in Sacramento, California.

Princeton men’s basketball’s first-round wins in the NCAA Tournament

2023 — Princeton 59, Arizona 55

1998 — Princeton 69, UNLV 57

1996 — Princeton 43, UCLA 41

1983 — Princeton 56, Oklahoma State 53

1967 — Princeton 68, West Virginia 57

1965 — Princeton 60, Penn State 58

1964 — Princeton 86, VMI 60

1961 — Princeton 84, George Washington 67