Will Barrett started his career with the Princeton University men’s basketball team as a member of the Class of 2013 but a foot injury set him back a year.
Brendan Connolly, meanwhile, has been a stalwart of the class, providing yeomen’s work in the paint over the last four years.
On Saturday, both played key roles as the Tigers celebrated Senior Night with a 68-63 win over Dartmouth before 3,167 at Jadwin Gym.
The 6’10 forward Barrett scored a game-high 24 points, including 18 in a second-half outburst which saw him hit five three-pointers, while the 6’11, 255-pound Connolly clogged up the middle getting six rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench.
In reflecting on his big performance, Barrett said he was fired up to help things go well for his original classmates in their final Jadwin appearance.
“I work my butt off day in, day out for my teammates so it is nothing really different but just losing five of my best friends, it changes everything for me,” said Barrett.
“I have 15 other best friends that I get to have after this but we were all a little teary eyed in the locker room after the game, we went up and hugged each other.”
Connolly, for his part, admired Barrett’s effort Saturday and on a daily basis.
“It was special,” said Connolly. “He is right when he said he has worked his butt off, he is down here all the time, getting shots up. I was hoping that Will and Jimmy [Sherburne] would be there tonight with us. That was part of the initial plan. I am really happy for Will and I am happy Jimmy is back and he says he is doing well and his shoulder is healing up. I am really happy for them and what they are going to be able to do next year.”
In reflecting on his last game at Jadwin, Connolly is happy for the experience he has enjoyed over the last four years.
“Mack [Darrow] and Ian [Hummer] are two of the best friends I have ever had and I think they always will be,” said Connolly.
“I trust those guys with my life and I think they trust me with theirs. It is pretty amazing; coming in here, you have no idea that is what the result is going to be four years later. I just thank God that I have those guys and some other guys on campus too that I can always turn to. It is just special, there is not one way to pinpoint how exactly it is, it just is. I think anyone who has gone here and played with the same guys for years will tell you that.”
Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson pinpointed Barrett and Connolly as key contributors in the win over Dartmouth.
“Will made some huge shots, I think it was a five-point lead and it went to eight; it might have gone to 10 or 11 once,” said Henderson, whose team improved to 16-9 overall and 9-2 Ivy League and got a huge lift when it found out later that Harvard fell 75-72 at Penn in dropping to 17-9 overall and 9-3 Ivy, prompting roars from the Tiger locker room.
“He shot the ball with confidence, you have got to make shots. I think it is indicative of how our team is; we have different ways to beat people which is good. I thought Brendan was important because [Gabas] Maldunas was hurting us. A couple of times they were really looking for him and Brendan took away six rebounds tonight which was important.”
In Henderson’s view, his senior players have made a huge impact on the team.
“It is a special group,” said Henderson, whose senior corps also includes reserve guards Ameer Elbuluk and Isaac Serwanga.
“When I first got here, I thought Dan Mavraides and Kareem Maddox and Bobby Foley and those guys in that class, had to do something that no Princeton class has ever had to do, which is take the program back to where it needed to be. This class, Ian, Brendan, and Mack, have been very successful. They have kept it where it needs to be and that is really important too.”
Barrett and his teammates know that the weekend sweep, which started with a 58-53 win over Harvard on Friday, doesn’t guarantee success in the Ivy title race which sees Princeton play at Yale on March 8, at Brown on March 9, and ending the regular season at Penn on March 12.
“After the game last night, we were talking to each other and we said this game means absolutely nothing if we don’t take care of what we have to take care of tomorrow and the next weekend,” said Barrett. “We just have to stay focused.”
While Connolly is focused on ending his Tiger career on a high note, he has already gained memories that will last for a lifetime.
“It is a good way to reflect back on everything and just remember how special things have been and some of the things we have been able to do here,” said Connolly.