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Life comes at you fast.
It was only this past Sunday that Zach Martini and his Princeton men’s basketball teammates were fighting with everything had just to make the NCAA Tournament.
Not even a week later and the No. 15 seed Tigers are the toast of the town after a stunning first-round upset over No. 2 seed Arizona in the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s crazy how many people are watching this game,” Martini said on Friday as Princeton prepared for a second-round contest against No. 7 seed Missouri in Sacramento. “There were 15,000 here, national TV, not a bigger stage than this. Just to see how many people pay attention, how many people care that we won a basketball game, it’s like, ‘Wow.’”
Martini said he woke up at 6 a.m. and couldn’t go back to sleep.
“It was a very surreal feeling,” said the 6-foot-7 junior forward out of Gill St. Bernard’s. “So many things happening so fast. You don’t really get to process how big of a moment that was until this morning. I was just taking everything in. All of the guys and the coaching staff, we had a great dinner (Thursday night) and just being with each other in Sacramento for one more day is awesome.”
The next challenge is moving off the high that comes with that kind of victory and getting back to the business at hand. Princeton (21-8) a date with the Sweet 16 up for grabs against Missouri (25-9) on Saturday night at the Golden 1 Center (6:10 p.m., TNT).
Coach Mitch Henderson has been here before. Both in 1996 when Princeton famously upset UCLA and again in 1998 when it defeated UNLV as a No. 5 seed. However, the Tigers lost in the second round in each of those years and haven’t been to the Sweet 16 since the field expanded to 64 teams.
“It would be even better if you make the Sweet 16,” Henderson said. “We want to keep dreaming big with the group.”
Why shouldn’t they?
“The Sweet 16 sounds pretty good to me,” senior forward Tosan Evbuomwan said. “That’s what we’re working towards, that’s the next step and there is a game in the way of that. That’s what we’re putting all of our chips in on.”
Henderson knows his Tigers (orange and black) are in for a challenge against the other Tigers (black and gold). Missouri ranks in the top-30 nationally in scoring offense and field goal percentage and are going to put full-court pressure on Princeton.
Princeton was just 4-of-25 on 3-pointers against Arizona — for contrast Missouri was 10-of-25 and guard D’Moi Hodge made five himself — but managed to out-rebound the taller Wildcats and hold them scoreless for the last 4:40.
“One thing coach reiterates is that he’s preparing us to win the game,” Martini said. “That’s something from top to bottom that we fully believe we can do. (Thursday) showed that we didn’t have a great shooting performance, but we were laser-focused on defense and we didn’t let the offense dictate our defense. We believe we can hang with anyone.”
And keep the party going.
“Most of team were here,” Henderson about his 1996 teammates. “They were having a great time.”
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