December 8, 2021

Princeton Men’s Hoops Displays Resilience, Skill In Rallying to Defeat Drexel 81-79 in Overtime

RALLY TIME: Princeton University men’s basketball player Tosan Evbuomwan, right, goes after the ball in recent action. Last Sunday, junior forward Evbuomwan scored a career-high 27 points to help Princeton rally for an 81-79 overtime win against visiting Drexel. The Tigers trailed by six points in the last minute of regulation and by six points early in the overtime before pulling out the win over the Dragons. Princeton, who improved to 6-3 with the victory, plays at Lafayette on December 11 before hosting UMBC on December 13. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Twice it looked like the Princeton University men’s basketball team had lost the game as it hosted Drexel last Saturday afternoon.

With 42 seconds left in regulation, Princeton trailed 71-66 but reeled off five straight points on a pair of free throws by Jaelin Llewellyn and a dramatic three-pointer by Ryan Langborg to knot the game at 71-71 and force overtime.

In the extra session, the Tigers were trailing 77-71 with 3:29 left but once again battled back, outscoring the Dragons 10-2 down the stretch. Tosan Evbuomwan hit a pair of clutch free throws and the winning bucket as Princeton pulled out an improbable 81-79 victory before a frenzied crowd of 1,312 at Jadwin Gym.

“That is an incredible win for us; I hate saying it, we weren’t deserving for parts of the game,” said Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson, whose team improved to 6-3.

“We fought back and showed a lot of toughness to get that one done.”

The Tigers displayed some skilled play to go along with their battling spirit.

“Ryan’s execution of the three and then the block to get us into overtime was a game-saving winning play,” said Henderson.

“Tosan made two free throws down the stretch to get it to two in OT and then Matt Allocco made a steal and then Tosan’s bucket there at the end. We also got a couple of big defensive stops, we were struggling to guard them all night long.”

With Princeton struggling last in the first half, trailing 34-24 with 6:06 left until halftime, Henderson called a timeout in order to stem the tide. The Tigers responded by going on a 13-7 run to regain momentum.

“I barely said anything, it is not printable, the guys figured it out,” said Henderson.

“They were on pace to get to 50, we went into the half down four. That was the biggest stretch of the game. That got us back in the game where we could fight and actually play a little bit in the second half and they did it.”

The Tigers showed some fight during intermission as players spoke up.

“We got into halftime and I heard Tosan’s voice and I heard Matt Allocco’s voice and that is what I am after,” said Henderson.

“It is can both of these guys put their stamp on the team verbally, not just with their play because the play has been good. What happens when you talk is that you have to follow it up and do something about it.”

In Evbuomwan’s view, holding each other accountable verbally made a difference.

“We have been talking a lot about, talking to each other and leading from within the team,” said the 6’8, 215-pound Evbuomwan, who tallied a career-high 27 points in win and added seven rebounds and six assists.

“That came to life today the best it has been all season. We were able to stick together and keep trusting it.”

Langborg stuck the most dramatic shot of the game, draining a three-pointer with 27 seconds left in regulation.

“We drew it up and it went exactly according to plan,” recalled junior guard Langborg, who tallied 17 points on the day.

“He kind of bit when I came off the first side and Tosan hit him perfectly on that second screen. Their big was a little late coming up. Right when it went off my hand, I had a good feeling about it.”

Evbuomwan’s offensive outburst was a big plus for Princeton. “The coaches are keeping me confident to do what I do, get my teammates involved and be aggressive,” said junior forward Evbuomwan, a native of Newcastle, England.

“I think when I am aggressive, it does open things up for my teammates. My coaches and teammates do a good job of encouraging me to do so. Tonight it was taking the ball more and just being aggressive.”

The game-winning bucket was a product of that aggressiveness as Evbuomwan maneuvered to get position in the paint and then spun in for a lay-up.

“It was just being aggressive and still looking for my teammates,” said Evboumwan.

“We drew up a play similarly and it worked out and I was one on one down low.”

Henderson, for his part, is looking for his squad to display the aggressive defense it employed in the waning moments of the first half.

“It is can we figure out how to play the way we did the last four minutes of the first half for a game,” said Henderson, whose team plays at Lafayette on December 11 before hosting UMBC on December 13.

“That is what we need to do. If we can do that, the team has a chance to be special. Right now we are good and we know we are good. We have got a chance to be great as long as we keep working. I think we can get there.”

Evboumwan, for his part, is amazed at where he has gotten in his journey from England to college hoops stardom.

“It is hard to imagine. At the time, it wasn’t something I envisioned,” said Evbuomwan, who is now averaging 13.8 points and 5.6 rebounds a game and has a team-high 38 assists.

“I was just speaking to one of our assistant coaches about having to be here; I am here now so that is all gone. It is what I am doing from here and trying to be the best version of myself and help my team win and be good. It is how do I keep going and how do we keep winning.”