Princeton Heading To Big Dance After 71-59 Win Over Yale

Myles Stephens grew up in Lawrenceville, N.J., down the street from Princeton University.

He was a fan, so being a part – a really big part – of the first Princeton team to advance to the NCAA Tournament via the Ivy League's first conference tournament, accomplished a little further down I-95 in one of basketball's most hallowed halls, The Palestra, is absolutely special to him.

"This is definitely a special moment," the 6-foot-4 sophomore said. "I've grown up around the program. In high school I came to all the games but I think the beginning of the year coach [Mitch Henderson] said we're getting a banner for the seniors."

Tigers' seniors Spencer Weisz and Steven Cook sitting to the left of Stephens appeared to really appreciate what their teammate said.

You know they appreciated Stephens' season-high 23 points and eight rebounds in a 71-59 win over Yale, a win that also allowed the Tigers (23-6) to extend the nation's second-longest win streak to 19 games Sunday. Vermont has won 21 in a row.

"I'm so proud of the team, I'm so happy to be their coach," Mitch Henderson said. "And we're thrilled to be representing the league in the NCAA Tournament. It is such an honor and privilege to go to the tournament."

It will be the Tigers' first appearance in the Big Dance since 2011.

In pinning a season-high 21 points on Penn in a 72-64 overtime win in the semifinals Saturday, Stephens was named the tournament's most outstanding player. With the two conference tournament wins the Tigers became the first team to go 16-0 in league play. Princeton went 14-0 in conference play for the sixth time in program history this season.

Alex Copeland and Sam Downey had 14 and 12 for Yale, which saw Princeton pull away from a 31-29 halftime lead by hitting five of its first six shots out of the locker room, including three three-pointers, to take a 47-39 stronghold it never let go.

That third three was by Stephens for his 18th points of the game with almost 15 minutes to play.

"I look at one of the sheets during one of the timeouts and he had points and I couldn't believe he had 18 points," Yale coach James Jones said. "They were quietest 18 points I looked at my staff I said how did he have 18 points?"

Yale's offense was decent early but fell off in the second half. The Bulldogs shot 38 percent from the field for the game – 35 percent in the second half and 30 percent from three. It didn't help going the final seven minutes without a field goal.

Freshman Miye Oni, who had 18 points in Yale's 73-71 win over Harvard Saturday, was held to three points on 1 of 7 shooting. Jones said it may have been too much to expect a freshman to carry the team again in a setting like Sunday's for a second straight day.

It wasn't a problem for the sophomore Stephens, who tore the Bulldogs up pretty good this season with 19 and 20 points in a regular season sweep of Yale.

Stephens was 8 of 14 from the field. He was also 3 of 6 from three-point land. He was dangerous inside and something his height and abilities allow him to do game in and game out. He's listed as a guard but he destroyed Yale's big men in the post. He was too fast and athletic for them. He was too big for the Yale guards. He could post them or shoot over them both of which he did aplenty.

"Offensively we try to take advantage of mismatches, Spencer, Steven also and Amir [Bell], so we put each other in positions to make plays and my teammates do a good job of that," Stephens said. "Whether it's posting up or driving to the rim or kicking out or finishing at the rim I think we really try to take advantage of that and that helped us win this weekend."

Yale knew all of that already.

"We had some missed assignments," Jones said. "Spencer Weisz is a guy who is trying to find people and we did a poor job staying attached to our men and he was able to find them and knock down shots and add to his assist total [eight with seven points] which really helped their team."

Still, Jones did a nice job rallying a young team to get this far in the competitive Ivy League without the services of first-team all-Ivy and preseason player of the year Makai Mason, lost for the season with a broken foot a week before the season started.

Copyright © 2017, CT Now
48°