As PU Hoops Teams Both Won Ivy Madness Titles, Jadwin Gym Fans Helped Spur the Tigers to Victory
CROWD PLEASER: Princeton University men’s basketball player Caden Pierce goes up for a layup against Penn last Saturday in the semifinals of the Ivy Madness postseason tournament. Freshman forward Pierce starred as Princeton edged Penn 77-70 and then went on to defeat Yale 74-65 in the final a day later. The event, which was held at Jadwin Gym for the first time, drew more than 4,000 fans to the women’s semis and final and more than 8,000 to the men’s semis and finals. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
While the Princeton University basketball players were excited to have the Ivy Madness postseason tournament being held on their home court last weekend for the first time, the Tigers knew that playing at Jadwin Gym guaranteed nothing.
Princeton women’s hoops junior forward Ellie Mitchell vowed that the Tigers would keep their focus and tune out some of the distractions of being at home.
“It is a really cool experience, obviously we don’t have to deal with all of the traveling but at the same time we are thinking of it as an away trip, a business trip,” said Mitchell.
The Tiger women proceeded to take care of business, defeating Penn 60-47 in the semis on Friday and then rallying to edge Harvard 54-48 in the final a day later. Crowds of 2,238 showed up for semi and 1,922 filed into Jadwin a day later for the final. Thunderous chants of “defense, defense” down the stretch helped spur the Tigers to victory on both days.
After the final, fans stayed on hand to join in the championship celebration which featured confetti raining down in the court, huge screams, hoisting the trophy, and cutting down the nets.
“It is great that we can have our students and our local fans come and fill up the gym,” said Mitchell. “It is a really cool atmosphere.”
The gym was full of Tiger hoops alums and such luminaries as Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber, former Tiger star and head coach John Thomson III, and Princeton Athletic Director John Mack took in the action from courtside seats.
Tiger junior guard Kaitlyn Chen did enjoy the convenience of not being in a hotel.
“This is a really exciting experience for us to have this at home,” said Chen. “It is nice to sleep in your own bed at night too so that is great.”
Princeton head coach Carla Berube admired the way her players kept in the moment amid the hoopla at Jadwin.
“They are doing a good job because if you are at home there could be more distractions because of all of your friends and family,” said Berube.
“They are doing a really good job of staying focused and knowing what the task is and what our goal is.”
After it was over, Berube expressed her gratitude for how the special homestand played out.
“It is thank you to the Ivy League, this is so well run and thanks to our University for putting it on,” said Berube, whose team will be far from home in the NCAA tournament where it is seeded 10th and will face seventh-seeded N.C. State in a first-round contest on March 17 in Salt Lake City, Utah. “I know it was a lot, it was just a tremendous experience for all of us.”
Following suit, the Tiger men enjoyed a tremendous experience as well, topping Penn 77-70 in the semis on Saturday afternoon and then overcoming nemesis Yale 74-65 in a tense final a day later.
It marks the first year since 2011 that both Princeton hoops teams will be going to the NCAA tourney. The Tiger men will also be heading west for the national tournament as they are seeded 15th and will face second-seeded Arizona in a first round contest on March 16 in Sacramento, Calif.
Tiger head coach Mitch Henderson, a 1998 Princeton alum who helped the program win three Ivy crowns during his playing days, relished the weekend at Jadwin.
“It was just an unbelievable atmosphere, thanks to the Ivy League and all of the fans that came out,” said Henderson, whose team drew a crew of 4,509 for semi showdown against arch rival Penn and 3,607 for the clash against Yale. “I want to say thank you to the Ivy League office. I have been in all different parts of it and different locations and it has always been done right. It is an incredible experience for the student-athletes. There is a lot of effort that goes into this. The work is done on the weekend. I am just thankful to the Ivy office and then to our own staff, John Mack and his administrative staff.”
Tiger junior guard Matt Allocco credited the Jadwin throngs with helping the Tigers come through in the tight contests.
“It played a huge role, shout out to all of our fans,” said Allocco. “In games like this, it seems like a neutral environment because both teams get a great support system but we know in the back of our minds that it was our gym and we had a ton of support. We have been saying all day when things get tight, just listen to the crowd and we have all of that support behind us.”
For Princeton senior star Tosan Evboumwan, a native of England, Jadwin has become his new home.
“It is amazing, even more amazing to do it at home,” said Evbuomwan. “Princeton is my home, Newcastle is my second home at this point. The guys were amazing, it means the world. I think it was a great performance from us, everyone chipped in, everyone made huge plays down the stretch.”
Grasping one of the nets cut down in the postgame celebration and his Ivy champion T-shirt drenched from getting doused in the festivities, Henderson smiled as he reflected on coming through before the home fans.
“One of the facilities guys came up to me a week ago and said thanks for making it so this can be worthwhile and I was like ugh,” said Henderson. “He said the same thing to me tonight after we won. I am just so proud of the group and the team.”
There was no place like home for the Tiger teams and supporters on a weekend of madness they will never forget.