February 22, 2023

Allocco Stars as Princeton Men’s Hoops Tops Brown But Tigers Falter a Night Later, Losing to Yale in OT

GOING TO THE MATT: Princeton University men’s basketball player Matt Allocco looks to make a pass in a game earlier this season. Last Friday, junior guard Allocco scored 20 points and played lockdown defense on Brown star Kino Lilly as the Tigers topped the Bears 78-67. A night later against Yale, Allocco scored 13 points but it wasn’t enough as Princeton squandered a 19-point second half lead and fell 93-83 to the Bulldogs in overtime. The Tigers, now 17-8 overall and 8-4 Ivy League and in a three-way tie for first place in the league standings with Yale and Penn, play at Harvard on February 25. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Matt Allocco drew a tough assignment when the Princeton University men’s basketball team hosted Brown last Friday night.

With Brown having edged Princeton 72-70 on January 14 as Kino Lilly torched the Tigers with 26 points, junior guard Allocco was given the unenviable task of trying to contain Lilly in the rematch.

The wiry 6’4, 193-pound Allocco proved up to the challenge, sticking with Lilly all over the court and holding him to 10 points on 3-of-13 shooting as Princeton topped the Bears 78-67 before a crowd of 1,750 at Jadwin Gym.

“He is an unbelievable player. He is really good, but I know too that I am going to do my job and I am going to try my best,” said Allocco. “My team behind me was going to have my back. If you have that kind of support, you have got all of the confidence in yourself. Any time you guard a player like him, you have got to be super disciplined and more than anything else you have got to play really hard.”

Allocco also did very well offensively against Brown for a second straight game, tallying 20 points after having scored a career-high 21 points in the previous meeting with the Bears.

“It is in the flow of things, it is just how the game goes sometimes,” said Allocco, who went 6-of-11 from the floor and 6-of-6 from the free throw line in the win on Friday. “It is not missing an opportunity and just to make the right play, whatever it is.”

The Tigers saw the matchup against Brown as an opportunity to bounce back from a disappointing 83-76 defeat at Dartmouth on February 11.

“It was huge, especially after that performance, obviously it was a bad loss for us,” said Allocco. “Maybe in the big scheme of things we needed it to regroup. If we can play with the kind of toughness and competitiveness going forward that we had tonight, I think we are going to be pretty solid.”

Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson credited Allocco with playing some tough defense in the win over Brown.

“I thought Matt was unbelievable on Lilly, he has been lighting everybody up,” said Henderson. “Matt trailed him out everywhere, Lilly has been really tough cover for everybody in the league. Matt was just so disciplined. Lilly finished with 10 points but 3-for-13 shooting. He has been really killing people and they really draw strength from that. I thought that was the key to the game.”

Princeton produced a strong defensive effort collectively against the Bears holding them to 21 of 56 shooting (37.5 percent) from the floor, including 2 of 16 from 3-point range.

“This is what we wanted to be, a lockdown defensive team,” said Henderson. “We have the potential to be that, but we have to be locked in all of the way around. Tonight we got a terrific performance. I have been pulling my hair out, it has been really frustrating.”

Coming into the game Friday, Henderson sensed that the Tigers were primed for a good performance.

“We had a really difficult loss at Dartmouth last Saturday and then on Monday we had our best practice of the season, led by Mush (Allocco) and the seniors,” said Henderson. “That doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to win tonight because you are also preparing for Yale, but it brought us together.”

Allocco was hoping that Princeton would keep things together against Yale on Saturday.

“It is going to be an unbelievable challenge,” said Allocco. “On your home court against a really good team, you wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Unfortunately for Princeton, it was Yale that was up for the challenge on Saturday as the Tigers squandered a 19-point second half lead (63-44 with 7:59 left in regulation) and fell 93-83 to the Bulldogs in overtime.

Princeton, now 17-8 overall and 8-4 Ivy League, dropped into a three-way tie for first place in the league standings with Yale and Penn, just ahead of Cornell and Brown who are both 6-6 in league play. The top four teams in the regular season standings will qualify for the upcoming Ivy postseason tourney which will be hosted by the Tigers.

Henderson, for his part, realizes that Princeton is looking at a tense stretch drive in Ivy play.

“All of the coaches are doing a great job, everybody is pretty even,” said Henderson, whose team will look to get back on the winning track as it plays at Harvard on February 25. “It is going to come down to a few plays in every game. I would imagine as a spectator it is a lot of fun to watch.”