BUFFALO– Fifth seeded Atlantic Coast Conference power Notre Dame held off Ivy League champion Princeton, 60-58, here yesterday in the first round of the NCAA West sub-regional the Key Bank Arena, ending the fifth seeded Tigers’ 19 game winning streak.
But Princeton made the Irish work for it. They rallied from 11 down in the second half and had a chance to steal the game when guard Devin Cannady launched a three point jumper in the final two seconds that was on line, but fell off the rim just before the buzzer.
“I thought the shot was going in,” he said afterwards.
The Ivies refuse to be trapped under a glass ceiling any more. With the exception of Princeton, which was a 5 seed in 1998, the league has been perennially locked into a double digit seed. But the Ivies have been more than competitive since 2010 when Cornell beat Temple and Wisconsin to advance to a Sweet 16. Harvard won two first round games as a 13 and a 12, defeating New Mexico in a first round game n 2013 and Cincinnati in 2014. Yale defeated Baylor as a 12 in a first round game.
And Princeton made a statement with their performance against the Irish.
“You know there’s Ivy League people here in the room,” Tigers’ coach Mitch Henderson said. “and if you ask all of the coaches in the league, the answer would be it comes as no surprise to us. It all starts with recruiting and the message these kids are hearing and understanding is, why wouldn’t I go to a high level institution and further myself in all parents of my life and take opportunity and then play on the national stage, too.
“Because that’s what these guys are doing. And we sell that. It’s not for everybody. But we sell that and then they commit to playing team basketball. All of the teams in the league, the coach. It’s team. What you now is a product of three, four months of having to run through the league. It’s not the least surprising to me that we’re here and the talent level is very high, and the coaching is very high. So we had a really good shot today. I felt good about it.”
The last time an Ivy team reached the Final Four was Penn in 1979.
The last time an Ivy team had a chance to win a national championship was the Bill Bradley Princeton team in 1966.
The Ivies are no long producing an assembly line to the NBA the way they did in the late 1960s and early ’70s with the late Jim McMillian of Columbia, Geoff Petrie and Brian Taylor of Princeton, Corky Calhoun and Dave Wohl of Penn and James Brown of Harvard.
But Princeton, which lost two starting senior forwards Hans Brase and Henry Caruso– a first team All Ivy selection in 2016, for the season with injuries in December, still had enough talent to finish as regular season champions with a perfect 14-0 record, then win the first ever Ivy League tournament at the Palestra by beating rival Penn in overtime and then defending champion Yale in a competitive in the championship game of a four team event the weekend before the big tournament started.
“Every year, when the brackets come out, I’m sure people are always looking at the Ivy League, who’s representing and what matchup they have, because we feel we can compete with anyone,” Tigers’ senior forward Spencer Weisz said. “It’s a testament to our league, a testament to the players. I’m looking forward to the growth of the league, and hopefully, it’s reputation. I think that the Ivy League tournament really helps get us on the national stage right before the Selection Show. There’s a bright future, I think, ahead for the Ivy League in general.”
Weisz, who led Princeton with 15 points, was one of three first team All Ivy players, along with senior forward Steven Cook and sophomore guard Myles Stephens. They were the nucleus of a team that led the Ivies in scoring defense (61.3), scoring margin (10.6) and three per game (10). They managed to stay in the game against the Irish despite shooting just 8 for 31 from the three.
Cannady’s miss will always go down in Princeton history, the same way Kit Mueller’s missed shot at the buzzer against top ranked Georgetown in the first round of the 1989 tournament broke the Tigers’ heart.
Henderson refused to characterize it as a missed opportunity.
“That may be, but that sort of smacks of bitterness,” he said, “and I want to give recognition to this group. We’re here because of themj and I’m so proud of the way they responded and gave us a chance to win. That’s all you can ask. This will hurt, but then we’re going to get together and celebrate what the season was.”