December 6, 2023

Enjoying Banner Day as NCAA Sweet 16 Run Celebrated, PU Men’s Hoops Rallies to Edge Furman on Allocco Shot

GOING TO THE MATT: Princeton University men’s basketball player Matt Allocco heads to the hoop in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, senior guard Allocco drained a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Princeton a dramatic come-from-behind 70-69 win over Furman. The Tigers, who moved to 8-0 with the victory, were slated to host Drexel on December 5 before playing at Saint Joseph’s on December 10. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

The cheers started early Saturday afternoon as the Princeton University men’s basketball team hosted Furman.

In a pregame ceremony, Princeton’s magical run to the NCAA Sweet 16 this past March was celebrated and a banner memorializing the achievement was unfurled from the rafters at Jadwin Gym to the applause of the 2,142 on hand for the contest.

About two hours later, the Jadwin crowd erupted in a frenzy with a full-throated roar after the Tigers, displaying the mettle that exemplified their March Madness success, rallied from a 61-50 deficit late in the second half to stun the Paladins 70-69 on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by senior star Matt Allocco.

In reflecting on his dramatic shot which improved Princeton to 8-0, Allocco credited sophomore forward Caden Pierce with making it possible as he grabbed a rebound and fired a pass out behind the arc.

“That might be a question for CP, was his head at the rim on the rebound,?” said Allocco with a laugh. “There was traffic, he ripped it out and found me. I had the easy job. He did all of the work right there, it was an unbelievable play.”

For Pierce, the dramatic final sequence happened in a flash. “It was kind of a blur for me, I don’t exactly know who had the shot,” said Pierce. “I kept telling Zach Martini keep crashing the glass, we are going to get rebounds. We are missing a lot of shots, we are going to get some. That was my mindset. I was going straight to the rim and try to get it and the ball bounced my way. I got it out to him and I knew it was good as soon he as got it.”

Afterward, Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson wasn’t quite sure how his team pulled it out the stunner.

“That never happens, we have been fortunate to win some of those games here of late,” said Henderson. “I would say that it’s a testament to the fight in the group. I think we were down eight with 2:25 left. We were trying everything. We guarded them strongly but it is the weirdest stat sheet, they shot almost 50 percent from the field and we shot 35. We turned them over in the last couple of minutes and the crowd got in favor of us. It was a big factor. We made some huge plays. The offensive rebound at the end and the kick out to Mush (Allocco) was just gigantic. I still don’t know exactly what happened. ”

In Henderson’s view, the experience gained from the Sweet 16 run has steeled his returning players for dealing with adversity.

“There is zero fear in the group, starting with Mush,” said Henderson. “There are four minutes left in the game and he is talking to the bench saying what, you guys can’t talk. He is relentlessly positive towards winning.”

Allocco, who ended up with 13 points and three assists in the win, was confident that the Tigers would come through even on an afternoon which saw them go 4-for-31 from 3-point range.

“I think we always believe that,” said Allocco. “We are a good team and even when we get down, we keep saying to each other, just chip away, chip away. We are going to make a run. We are going to make shots and we did.”

Pierce saw the rally as a carryover from last March’s heroics.

“I think absolutely, playing in front of big crowds, dealing with adversity,” said Pierce. “Just being older, experienced guys who have played in big-time games, helps so much.”

The support of the Jadwin crowd, which hit high volume down the stretch with many fans standing through the last two minutes of the contest, helped spur the Tigers.

“I think especially playing at home in front of a good crowd, if a team has a lead and you start to make a little comeback, there are some nerves on the other side,” said Pierce, who tallied 22 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in the win, later getting named as the Co-Ivy League Player of the Week along with Penn’s Clark Slajchert.

“The crowd played a huge part in the win. We really feed off of the crowd. I feel like if the crowd is into it, big plays happen, you hit shots.”

Henderson credited Pierce with making a slew of big plays against Furman.

“He is amazing, he has got a nose for the ball unlike anything I have ever seen; he just seems to know exactly where it is going to go and when it is going to go,” said Henderson. “It is like Dennis Rodman because he is right there every time; 22 and 15, how many times have we seen that in the history of Princeton basketball? It is regularly happening. He was hard on himself about missing some free throws but at least he is getting their team in foul trouble. We are in the double bonus with six minutes left which helped us. Then he made the two that really counted and then he made the huge three at the top of the key.”

Pierce’s scrappy play personified the grit the Tigers displayed collectively in overcoming the Paladins.

“We are adjustable but I think today we figured out we can’t be too adjustable,” said Henderson. “We have got to have some guts and some north-south type basketball. We have got to get ourselves to the rim.”

With the Tigers slated to host Drexel on December 5 before playing at Saint Joseph’s on December 10, Henderson is looking forward to seeing his players produce some more gutsy basketball.

“Everybody is good and getting better as well,” said Henderson. “I love these games. It is two Philly teams who are well coached and both playing well. St Joe’s has had some really good wins. I said to the guys today look you are playing three games in a row that if you are a college basketball fan, these are fun games to watch.”

The fans at Jadwin certainly had a lot of fun last Saturday.