March 27, 2024

While Loss to UNLV in NIT First Round Stung, PU Men’s Hoops has Good Foundation in Place

EXCELLENT PROSPECTS: Princeton University men’s basketball player Xaivian Lee dribbles past a UNLV (University of Nevada, Las Vegas) player last Wednesday as Princeton hosted theRunnin’ Rebels in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament. Sophomore guard Lee scored 10 points with six assists and two rebounds in a losing cause as the Tigers fell 84-77 to the Runnin’ Rebels. The defeat left Princeton with a final record of 24-5. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

In the waning seconds of the Princeton University men’s basketball team’s 84-77 loss to UNLV (University of Nevada, Las Vegas) last Wednesday in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament, senior stars Matt Allocco and Zach Martini left the court at Jadwin Gym for the final time to an extended standing ovation.

But while the exit of the two senior stalwarts will leave a huge void as they were part of three Ivy League regular season championship teams and the historic run to the NCAA Sweet 16 last March, the cupboard is hardly bare for the Tigers.

As the Tigers went 24-5 this winter, sophomore standouts Xaivian Lee and Caden Pierce both earned first-team All-Ivy honors with Pierce being named the Ivy Player of the Year. Shifty guard Lee averaged a team-high 17.1 points and led the Tigers in assists with 108 while athletic forward Pierce averaged 16.6 points and a team-high 9.2 rebounds a game.

Freshman guard Dalen Davis emerged as a key performer, averaged 6.6 points a game off the bench with 31 3-pointers. Sophomore Jack Scott, a former Hun School star, brought grit and toughness as a reserve guard/forward, contributing 2.3 points and 2.2 rebounds in 12 minutes a game with 15 steals.

In the wake of the defeat to UNLV, Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson is excited about his sophomore standouts.

“The sophomores are terrific, they are very talented,” said Henderson. “They had great years, they benefited from the sheer grinding of the senior class. We are going to be really different next year with the seniors.”

Junior guard Blake Peters, who started all 29 games this winter and averaged 7.8 points per contest with a team-high 64 3-pointers, will be counted on to fill some of that leadership void.

“Blake is the only senior who has played significant minutes,” noted Henderson. “It is can those guys now hold people to account, which has been a staple for us. Tosan (last year senior star and current Detroit Piston Tosan Evbuomwan) was constantly, ‘that’s on me.’ That comes with the age.”

After taking a break to refresh after a grueling season, the Tigers will reconvene to turn their attention to next winter.

“We are a little banged up, we will take two to three weeks off,” said Henderson.

“They need to get away from the old man for a little bit and away from my voice and go be students and enjoy the spring and the nice weather. Then we will get back together and talk about our goals for next season. We will have very heavy, lofty goals. We will have a banquet in the spring and celebrate another championship, that is important around here.”

In the age of the transfer portal and NIL (name, image, and likeness) it will be important for Henderson to keep his young stars in the fold.

“It is a good group, there is a lot going on in college basketball,” said Henderson. “I would like to see everybody back, I don’t have my head in the sand, I will tell you that. I have been working hard on it, it is a new landscape.”