LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Seniors Tosan Evbuomwan and Ryan Langborg did everything they could to help Princeton match Creighton Friday night, but the Bluejays’ combination of hot 3-point shooting and strength in the paint powered them to an 86-75 victory, ending the Tigers’ historic NCAA Tournament run.
Evbuomwan scored 24 points, assisted on nine baskets, grabbed six rebounds, and orchestrated Princeton’s final push, in which the Tigers cut the lead to seven points with 3:38 remaining. Langborg finished with 26 points, a career high.
Just 12 days passed between the afternoon that Princeton walked off Carril Court with the Ivy League’s NCAA Tournament bid in hand and the night its season ended in Louisville. In that span, the Tigers knocked off two major-conference powers, Arizona and Missouri, challenged a third, and ignited a legion of fans.
“It’s such a year of joy for our program,” head coach Mitch Henderson ’98. “These guys have done something that no one has ever done. And I know there’s some really great Princeton teams in the past, but this is a really, really special team. It’s such an honor to be around them on a day-to-day basis.”
On a night when the tournament’s two remaining No. 1 seeds fell short of the Elite Eight, an Ivy League school made a statement for mid-major programs playing in the Sweet 16. “I think it just shows that there’s not a lot that separates us from everyone else,” Langborg said. “If you have a tough group that’s bonded and best of friends, and you play with joy, anything can happen.”
Princeton played Creighton close in the first half and trailed by four points at the break. A cold start by the Tigers after halftime helped the Bluejays quickly extend their lead to 11 points. When Creighton’s Baylor Scheierman banked in a 3-pointer with 13:15 left, the margin ballooned to 14. A minute later, a layup by Trey Alexander made it 16, the largest lead Creighton would hold.
Princeton clawed its way back, largely relying on Evbuomwan and Langborg, and the Tigers’ zone defense helped neutralize Creighton in stretches. But Ryan Kalkbrenner, the Bluejays’ 7-foot-1 center, made the most of the limited space he was given, scoring 22 points to lead Creighton. Three other Bluejays scored in double figures, and true to their tournament form, they made free throws down the stretch when Princeton was forced to foul.
The Tiger fans, who filled one section of the arena’s lower bowl and a vast network of orange patches throughout, arrived in full voice. From the first “Let’s Go Tigers” chant before tipoff to the explosive cheers after Evbuomwan’s opening basket, one could almost believe it was a Princeton home game.
“You feel the love from all the alums and all the people that came here to support us,” Langborg said. “They were traveling thousands of miles to come see us play. It was so much fun to play in front of a crowd like that.”
But the Creighton contingent’s “C-U” replies restored the neutral site atmosphere — and the Bluejays gave them plenty to cheer about, making 10 of their first 13 shots, including 4-of-6 shooting on 3-pointers.
The Tigers double-teamed Kalkbrenner when he received the ball in the post, opening space for 3-point shooters. Then the Bluejays started working the ball from the outside in, cashing in with dunks by Kalkbrenner and Fredrick King. Creighton led by eight, 24-16, with 11:12 left in the first half.
The momentum began to shift in a Princeton run that included a Caden Pierce ’26 dunk, assisted by Evbuomwan, and a rare Evbuomwan 3-pointer. By the next media timeout at 7:42, the Tigers trailed by two, 29-27, and Langborg soon evened the score with a layup. After a seesaw stretch, Langborg and Blake Peters ’25 each found bottom of the net with 3-pointers, and Princeton led, 37-33. Creighton called timeout.
Creighton would quickly rebound, tying the game on a 3-pointer by Scheierman. A Princeton turnover on the next possession led to a fast break, and a goaltending call against Langborg gave the Bluejays a basket and the lead, 40-38.
Kalkbrenner had his best stretch of the game in the last 1:26 of the first half, scoring seven points, including three free throws. But Evbuomwan lifted his team as well, making a contested layup and assisting on a 3-pointer by Peters. Princeton trailed the Bluejays 47-43 at the break.
Princeton finished the year with a 23-9 record, Ivy League regular-season and tournament championships, and the program’s first appearance in the Sweet 16 since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
“We were a work in progress all season,” Henderson said. “We really got to play our best basketball here as of late.”
Indeed, the Tigers began the season with two losses, to Hofstra and Navy, before rattling off eight straight wins. They experienced the pain of losing a game they led by 19 (at home vs. Yale) and two weeks later felt the thrill of winning a game they trailed by 19 (at home vs. Penn).
Princeton’s NCAA Tournament history has a certain mythology, from the stardust of Bill Bradley ’65’s Final Four team to the near-upset against No. 1 seed Georgetown in 1989 and Pete Carril’s farewell win over UCLA in 1996. This run had glimpses of that type of magic, but the overall feel was one of brilliant competence, even when shots weren’t falling. No challenge seemed to faze the Tigers, and Evbuomwan, in his point-guard-as-center role, set the tone.
“It’s exquisite watching him play, to me,” Henderson said a day before the Creighton game. “He is like a 9 [center forward] or a 10 [attacking midfielder] in soccer. He slows the game down for himself, which then speeds the game up for those around him.”
The Tigers’ star said Henderson’s emphasis on constant improvement served him well. “He’s pushed me all four years,” Evbuomwan said. “It’s all you want as a player, I think, and someone like me who just wants to get better, you know, he’s never taken me lightly. … He’s always insisting I can be better and [that] just inspires confidence in me and even greater willingness to work.”
All of Princeton’s seniors have a remaining year of NCAA eligibility because they missed a season of competition when the Ivy League canceled athletics in 2020-21 due to the pandemic. Evbuomwan and Langborg both could be prized graduate transfers, especially after their performances in March. Evbuomwan also looks like a potential pro. He said he’ll speak with his family and loved ones in the coming weeks before making a decision.
“I’m not sure I’m going to find another group like this,” he said. “We just look out for one another all the time. I’ve never really had this — there’s no ego at all amongst us. We don’t care at all who’s getting the attention, who’s scoring points, who’s doing this, who’s doing that. We just really root for one another and want to see each other be successful.”
Langborg said he anticipates more postseason runs ahead for Princeton. “I hope that the senior class has been able to leave an imprint on the younger guys, to keep working no matter what,” he said. “I mean, it took us four years to get to this point, right? So just keep playing with joy, keep playing with happiness, grind together. There’s going to be a lot of blood and tears along the way, but it’s a fun road.”