Senior Guard Langborg Goes Out with a Bang in Defeat As PU Men’s Hoops Falls to Creighton in NCAA Tourney
FIGHT TO THE FINISH: Princeton University men’s basketball player Ryan Langborg, left, drives around Penn’s George Smith in the Ivy League postseason tournament. Last Friday night, senior guard Langborg scored a game-high and career-high 26 points as 15th-seeded Princeton fell 86-75 to sixth-seeded Creighton last Friday in the Sweet 16 at the NCAA South Regional in Louisville, Ky. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
His eyes were reddened but Ryan Langborg managed a smile after the Princeton University men’s basketball team fell 86-75 to Creighton last Friday night in the Sweet 16 at the NCAA South Regional in Louisville, Ky.
Reflecting on Princeton’s magical run which saw the 15th-seeded Tigers upset second-seeded Arizona and seventh-seeded Missouri before losing to the sixth-seeded Bluejays, senior guard Langborg focused on the bonds with his teammates rather than the sting of the defeat.
“As much as you guys see us having fun on the court, we have even more fun when we are off the court, hanging out and playing video games together in the hotel,” said Langborg, standing in the Tiger locker room at the KFC Yum! Center a half hour after the loss that left the squad with a final record of 23-9. “We play a little trivia game all of the time; it just laughing and hanging out with my best buddies.”
Langborg’s last moment on the court with his buddies came when he was summoned to the bench in the waning moments of the contest, receiving a hug from Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson and an extended ovation from the Tiger fans on hand.
“It was special to feel the love from Princeton alums and all of the guys,” said Langborg, who scored a game-high and career-high 26 points on the night. “These are my guys for life, so is the coaching staff and everyone. I didn’t think I was going to end up crying today — I did shed a few tears.”
Langborg acknowledged that Princeton felt pressure from a long, athletic Bluejay squad that forged ahead 47-43 at halftime and built its lead to 68-52 at one point in the second half.
“I don’t think we were quite ready for how fast they were,” said Langborg. “I think that is what really hurt us in the end. At halftime, we were down four and saying, ‘we are in this game.’ We had a lot of hope. We wanted to get it done. Obviously it didn’t go our way.”
Langborg gave the Tigers hope over the last 20 minutes of the game, tallying 17 points in the half and hitting some key shots to keep Princeton in the contest.
“Tosan [Evbuomwan] was able to play with me a lot on some two-man action,” said Langborg, who shot 11 of 17 from the floor in the defeat, including 4 of 7 from three-point range. “It was really working, my shots happened to go in today. It could be any one of us. It was just coach calling plays, running what he is calling, and so much credit goes to everyone else for setting me up.”
The Tigers kept fighting to the end, employing a zone defense late in the second half that put the Bluejays on their heels.
“The problem with a zone like that sometimes is that they are eventually going to figure it out a little bit,” said Langborg. “They didn’t quite get it but their pure size, the rebounding, things like that just make it so tough. Making us scramble around the court tires us out even more. You never want to get into that situation, but I think we fought hard.”
Over the years, Langborg figured things out as he became a valuable performer at both ends of the court for the Tigers.
“So much has changed, personally. I came in freshman year, I couldn’t really guard anybody,” said Langborg, a 6’4, 196-pound native of San Diego, Calif., who averaged 12.7 points a game this season after scoring 10.7 points game last year.
“These guys have made me into a much better player, I think all of us are much better players. They are so good with the development of us — they put so much time into that. I think just all of us are better people. As you are at Princeton, it does a great job of making you grow up — gain responsibility and accountability. Everyone shows up to practice an hour early, we have this sensational team bond and spirit about us. Everyone wants to get better. If you have that, your team can be unstoppable.”
Having the 2019-20 season halted due to COVID-19 and the 2020-21 campaign canceled due to ongoing pandemic concerns helped deepen the bonds among the Tiger players.
“It was tough, I was in California for the majority of that,” said Langborg. “We bonded over the fact that we couldn’t do what we loved — it made us closer off the court. When we got back, we played with so much excitement that it triggered a special season. Last year, we were great as well. We came up a game short (falling 66-64 to Yale in the final of the Ivy League postseason tournament). Skill-wise we might have been better last year. But I think this team is just so tough — that is what got us here.”
Princeton head coach Henderson appreciated the toughness displayed by Langborg in his career.
“Ryan in the last four weeks has just, in my opinion, been one of the best players in the Ivy League tournament and the NCAA tournament,” said Henderson of Langborg, who ended his Tiger career with 153 three-pointers and 803 points. “He has just been terrific. His confidence level rose throughout the tournament, and so did ours. He is so tough and such an underrated defender. Tough as nails, such a pleasure to coach him.”
Langborg, for his part, believes that the example set by him and his classmates will help spur the program to greater heights in the future.
“I think these guys are going to take this experience and they are going to think, ‘Ah, we want to go back there, we want to go even farther,’” said Langborg. “I hope that the senior class has been able to leave an imprint on the younger guys to keep working no matter what. It took us four years to get to this point. So it is just keep playing with joy, keep playing with happiness, and grind together. It is going to be a lot of blood and tears along the way, but it is a fun road and even sweeter when your dream comes true.”