Evbuomwan Produces Finest Performance of Season, Helping PU Men’s Hoops Pull Away to Win at Penn
PHILLY SPECIAL: Princeton University men’s basketball player Tosan Evbuomwan drives to the basket in recent action. Last Monday, senior forward Evbuomwan tallied a season-high 26 points along with seven rebounds and three assists as Princeton defeated Penn 72-60 at The Palestra in Philadelphia. The Tigers, now 13-5 overall and 4-1 Ivy League, host Dartmouth on January 21. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Justin Feil
Tosan Evbuomwan delivered his finest game of the season to help the Princeton University men’s basketball team remain in first place in the Ivy League.
After a painful 72-70 loss at Brown last Saturday in which the Tigers struggled to make plays down the stretch, senior forward Evbuomwan had a season-high 26 points, seven rebounds, and three assists in a 72-60 win over the University of Pennsylvania at The Palestra on Monday.
“I thought he was awesome,” said Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson, reflecting on Evbuomwan’s effort which helped Princeton improve to 13-5 overall and 4-1 in Ivy League play.
At Brown, Evbuomwan had 10 points on 4-for-11 shooting, eight assists, and four rebounds, and two missed free throws late were costly in the loss. Against Penn, he returned to the dominant form that earned him Ivy League Player of the Year.
“I’ve been appreciative of Tosan on a lot of levels,” said Henderson. “But mostly as a person. I challenged him directly in front of the group on Saturday and he always takes it and always responds. Always. And I’m so thankful to be able to coach somebody like that. That’s the No. 1 thing I’m happy for. This game is always in there — what he did. But mostly I appreciate the fact that he allows himself to be coached so the rest of the team has to fall in line. When he does that, we’re hard to beat.”
When Penn covered him closely – and even sometimes when he didn’t – he drove by them for a variety of finishes at the basket. He was fouled nine times and attempted 11 free throws – the most since shooting 11 in the season opener. More importantly, he made seven of those shots from the charity stripe. When Penn backed off, he found cutters for shots, and he even made his fifth 3-pointer of the season, a shot that he has been working on and Princeton wants him to take when he’s open.
“I was able to be aggressive and pick my spots, keep my teammate involved obviously and look for them,” said Evbuomwan, a 6’8, 219-pound native of Newcastle, England who is now averaging a team-high 13.2 points and 6.2 rebounds and also leads the Tigers in assists with 80. “They’ve been knocking shots down like crazy, the past however many games.”
Tiger freshman forward Caden Pierce quietly impressed with his second double-double of the season, contributing 12 points and 10 rebounds in his debut in the storied rivalry with Penn. Princeton had two other players score double figures to give them four total. Senior guard Ryan Langborg finished with 13 points and junior guard Matt Allocco scored 10 points while hounding Penn’s leading scorer, Jordan Dingle, into a 6-for-22 shooting night.
“I think if you’re a competitor like everyone on our team is, you embrace those challenges,” said Allocco, reflecting on his defensive effort. “I think our team understood too that it’s team defense especially with great scorers like that. Hopefully my guys know by now that I’m just going to compete and I’m going to play hard but I know that I have a ton of support behind me. I’d say my teammates support me and make that a lot easier on me.”
Princeton held Penn without a 3-pointer, the first time the Quakers had been shut out from beyond the arc since November 24, 2009. It was a key to winning for the seventh straight time in the series. It furthermore snapped a trend for the Tigers in which they had followed a loss with a second one, losing to Navy after falling to Hofstra and then losing to Delaware after dropping a game to Iona. This time they bounced back from the Brown loss.
“Obviously it was super frustrating,” said Evbuomwan. “We try to approach every game the same way. You don’t want to drop two in a row. Our mindset is to go 1-0 every game. It’s what we did tonight. It was a tough loss on the weekend and so it was important for us to get this one.”
The win keeps Princeton tied atop the Ivy League standings with Cornell, whom the Tigers defeated 75-68 on January 7, at 4-1. Princeton could add further separation from the trailing pack with a win over surprising Dartmouth who the Tigers host on January 21. The status of Deven Austin, who left the Penn game in the first half with a head injury, is up in the air with the freshman being evaluated after Monday’s game. Princeton has played four of its first five Ivy games away from home.
“I would have taken 4-1 looking at the schedule,” said Henderson. “I would have thought that would have been great. We’re coming home finally. Us and Penn have been on the road non-stop and now we’re coming home finally this weekend.”
Dartmouth, at 3-2 in the league after a last-minute win over Penn on Saturday, is the only other Ivy team without at least three losses. The top four teams at the end of the regular season will meet in Princeton for the Ivy League Tournament to determine the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Princeton still has significant road games at Yale, Dartmouth, and Harvard ahead, but can take confidence from its win at Penn.
“We’re always up for this game,” said Evbuomwan. “We’re always up for every game, but the history with our two programs and The Palestra and winning, people before us have set great examples of getting ready for this place and making big plays. Coach reminded us of that today and previously. It’s just kind of trying to follow and keep the legacy of Princeton basketball.”
Princeton never trailed by more than four in a tight first half despite nine turnovers. Princeton also took better care of the ball in the second half with just two turnovers in the final 20 minutes. That factor was important in a night when shooting was tough. Henderson pointed out that both teams struggled from 3, with Penn going 0-for-12 and Princeton finishing 4-for-25, their second worst percentage of the season, after their challenging turnarounds.
“It has something to do with the physicality of the game and the fact that both teams had a really long trip back and got back in late Saturday night,” said Henderson. “It looked to me like both teams were playing like that. It was a really physical game.”
The Tigers were down, 26-25, at halftime. Evbuomwan’s 3-pointer and a shot from Langborg gave the Tigers a 30-28 lead early in the second half and they would never trail again, though it remained tight until just over 10 minutes remained.
With Princeton leading 40-38, Langborg made a 3-pointer and a Penn foul on a box out gave Pierce a 1-and-1 that he completed for a 45-38 lead. Two minutes later, the lead was 52-42, and Princeton kept Penn at bay from there to remain in first place in the Ivies.
“I thought that was the deciding factor in the game, that play right there,” said Henderson. “Once we got it to eight, I think with the physicality of the game, it was going to be hard for one team to come back.”