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PRINCETON — Tosan Evbuomwan was asked if he had any extra motivation after missing out on back-to-back Ivy League Player of the Year honors.
The Princeton men’s basketball team’s senior forward paused, cracked a brief smile and remembered what the feeling was like when he came up short in the Ivy League Tournament last season.
Evbuomwan scored 21 points, including a left-handed floater with 30 seconds remaining that gave the Tigers a three-point lead, and second-seeded Princeton held on for a 77-70 victory over third-seeded Penn in an Ivy League Tournament semifinal game on Saturday afternoon at Jadwin Gymnasium in front of roaring crowd of 4,509.
“Last year the Player of the Year went home early with his team,” Evbuomwan said. “It doesn’t mean much to me at this point. We’re focused on getting it done (on Sunday).”
The Tigers (20-8) beat the Quakers (17-13) for the ninth straight time and set up a rematch of last season’s decider against top-seeded Yael on Sunday afternoon. The Bulldogs swept the two games this season, including an 18-point comeback here at Jadwin.
“This one has been circled for a while since we lost last year,” Evbuomwan said. “We’re excited about the game and looking forward to getting another opportunity to win that one and do what we dream of and what we’ve been working toward all season.”
To get to Sunday, Princeton first needed to beat its arch rival for the second time in a week. While the Tigers rallied from an 18-point second half deficit in that game to earn a share of the regular-season title, this one was expectedly much closer throughout.
Neither team led by more than six points until Princeton iced it at the line with four free throws in the last 12 seconds.
“That was the most physical game we’ve played in a long time,” coach Mitch Henderson said. “It was just an unbelievable atmosphere. It was just a terrific game, hard-fought back and forth and I would imagine very enjoyable to watch as a fan.”
Caden Pierce had his sixth double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds, and Ryan Langborg and Zach Martini had 12 points each.
Pierce gave the Tigers a 69-68 lead when he ran down a long pass from Langborg and scored as he was fouled. The Ivy Rookie of the Year later corralled two huge rebounds; first on the offensive end with 46 seconds remaining that set up Evbuomwan’s basket and then a defensive rebound after Jordan Dingle flung up an off-balance 3-pointer on Penn’s ensuing possession.
Pierce made two free throws with 11.9 seconds left to put Princeton up five and Xaivian Lee sealed it with two more three seconds later after the Quakers were called for an illegal screen.
“Caden just rebounds with two hands with aggression,” Henderson said. “He’s the best rebounder I think I’ve ever seen who played for me. He’s so humble about it, so I think it rubs off. The kids is churning out double-doubles like it’s easy.”
Dingle, who unseated Evbuomwan as the Ivy Player of the Year, led the Quakers with 19 points. Clark Slajchert finished with 17 and Nick Spinoso scored 15.
But in a back-and-forth thriller, Princeton, as it has done for the last decade against its chief rival, kept its heartrate in check and made more plays.
“It’s pretty high at points,” Evbuomwan said, “but I try to stay calm and be like the calming presence on the team. Try to keep our poise so we can make big plays down the stretch and we did that.”
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