January 4, 2023

Tiger Men’s Hoops Edges Harvard in Ivy Opener As Langborg, Peters Come Up Big in Crunch Time

STEPPING UP: Princeton University men’s basketball player Blake Peters looks to pass the ball in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, sophomore guard Peters tallied a team-high 13 points to help Princeton edge Harvard 69-66 in the Ivy League opener for both teams. The Tigers, now 10-4 overall and 1-0 Ivy, play at Columbia on January 6 and at Cornell on January 7. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Ryan Langborg and Blake Peters fill different roles for the Princeton University basketball team. Langborg is a sharp-shooting senior starter while Peters is a sophomore reserve looking to provide a spark off the bench.

Last Saturday, the pair outperformed their normal duties as Princeton edged visiting Harvard 69-66 in the Ivy League opener for both teams, improving to 10-4 overall and 1-0 Ivy. Langborg posted the first double-double of his career with 12 points and a career-high 11 rebounds with Peters scoring a team-high 13 points in 20 minutes, including three key free throws in the last 16 seconds of the tense contest.

Langborg, for his part, relished coming through in the thrilling contest which saw Princeton overcome a 31-30 halftime deficit to build a 62-50 second half lead only to see the Crimson make a furious comeback to narrow the gap to 66-64 with 25 seconds remaining in regulation.

“It is so much harder to win in league games,” said guard and co-captain Langborg. “We were just having fun out there. Obviously when the game gets tight, you have to focus up. We are playing our best when we are not thinking, you are just balling. In the league, you just rely on your habits and what you have gone over so much in practice.”

The 6’4 Langborg turned his focus to hitting the boards to help Princeton prevail.

“The bigs had their hands full with a bunch of big dudes on their team, so it was my responsibility to clean it up,” added Langborg, a native of San Diego, Calif., who is averaging a team-high 12.6 points along with 3.7 rebounds a game. “A lot of the times the people I was guarding weren’t crashing as much so I kind of had free rein to go after the ball.”

As a battle-tested veteran, Langborg was ready to step up in crunch time.

“A lot of the young guys don’t know a lot about the league,” said Langborg. “They will pick it up really fast but some of us have the luxury of playing a bunch of games and understanding how hard it is. We will keep going.”

One of those young guys, sophomore guard Peters, got going when he hit a three-pointer with 21 seconds left in the first half, set up by an assist from Tosan Evbuomwan.

“It is always good to see a shot go in, it also helps playing with Tosan,” said Peters, a 6’1, 190-pound native of Evanston, Ill., who drained a three-pointer and a made a twisting lay-up down the stretch. “He attracts a lot of attention on defense. I am just moving, trying to find my spots and he hit me a couple of times. It is my role out there to make shots. I was glad I could do that today.”

Playing for the U.S. men’s open team that won the gold medal at the 2022 Maccabiah Games in Israel this summer helped prepare Peters for assuming a bigger role for the Tigers this season.

“I had a great opportunity this summer to play in Israel; a lot of the habits I developed at Princeton continued this summer,” said Peters, noting that he shared the experience with Princeton assistant coach Skye Ettin, who served on the U.S. team’s coaching staff.

“I think getting back to competing. I wasn’t really playing last year and you really miss being out there. So this summer I got to get back in the groove playing again and that was really important. I regained my appreciation for the game a little bit after having a reduced role last year. This year is different and I have that competitive fire back.”

Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson liked the competitive fire displayed by his players as they held off Harvard.

“I am really happy with the win, I think that is a good team,” said Henderson. “The league is just tough; we are going to be gone on the road a lot, so we really needed this one.”

A throng of 2,866 on hand at Jadwin Gym helped buoy the Tigers as they got the much-needed win.

“It was awesome, my daughter before the game was like, ‘The Drums of Thunder are here, they didn’t come last year,’” said Henderson. “I was like, ‘No one came last year.’ Even at halftime, I am thinking about all of these things and I heard the Drums of Thunder and I was just thankful for people and fans and entertainment. That was a long January.”

Henderson was thankful for the toughness displayed by Langborg as he achieved his first career double-double.

“I was telling some of the other freshmen that Ryan as a freshman struggled both with his stamina and keeping his body in front of guys at times,” said Henderson. “None of those things are issues now, in fact they are strengths. He is very tough. He gets a double-double, I never had any of those. This is terrific.”

Peters likewise made a terrific contribution from the Tigers.

“Blake killed us last year in practice regularly and that was a very good team,” said Henderson of Peters, who played in just 14 games last season, averaging 1.3 points and 4.6 minutes per appearance. “He has very high confidence and we have very high confidence in him. I was happy to see that he was the one on the line. He made some huge free throws and some huge threes.”
Freshman forward Caden Pierce came up huge in his Ivy debut with nine points, five rebounds, and two steals.

“We liked Caden in recruiting,” said Henderson. “We thought he was tough and he got two-handed rebounds. He is far ahead, he plays to win.”

Henderson also liked the contribution he got from Keeshawn Kellman, who tallied 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting.

“I am psyched and so are these guys; he just a total difference maker for us and a game changer,” said Henderson. “We wanted to see his growth. I feel like he is going to continue to get better each game he plays because he has not played that much.”

Coming into the Harvard contest, Henderson sensed that his players were primed for a big game.

“We had a really good, focused practice the first day back,” said Henderson, whose team will head to New York this weekend to play at Columbia (6-10 overall, 1-0 Ivy) on January 6 and at Cornell (11-3 overall, 1-0 Ivy) on January 7. “They were locked in on everything we asked them to do, including this morning. That starts with the older guys, you go in this league as the older guys go.”

With Princeton hosting the Ivy postseason tournament in early March, Langborg is hoping that the atmosphere Saturday can be a harbinger of things to come as the Tigers look to finish in the top four in the league standings to qualify for the tourney.

“We are bringing it home, not just for all of the guys that we are battling with but for all of the people and fans that support us as well,” said Langborg. “They are just as much a part of the group. It was good to see them out there tonight and they definitely gave us a boost.”

For Peters, coming through with the free throws to close the deal for the Tigers was a major boost to his confidence.

“It is definitely the biggest moment of my career so far, there is not really a way you can prepare for it,” said Peters, who is now averaging 6.2 points, 1.9 rebounds, and 14.4 minutes a game. “We do a drill in practice, you have to make 12 free throws in a row at the end. I was joking with the guys at the pregame that I have never missed. Some people dispute that. I have shot thousands of free throws in my life and a lot of the other guys have too. Whether it was me or it was someone else, we all have confidence in each other to make that.”