Princeton is standing despite a late March Madness nightmare

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The heartbreak will last. How could you not, when history defies you and reminds the world that an Ivy League basketball team can crash a Final Four party?

When the pain subsides, and it will, the sun will rise and the Princeton Tigers will hold their heads high and burst with pride for authoring a Basketball 101 thesis they won’t forget.

Every group claims to be a fraternity, but this Princeton group really is one. But being a Dream Team doesn’t mean you get to enjoy the dream ending.

And, alas, Creighton shattered that dream with an 86-75 NCAA Tournament South Region semifinal victory over KFC Yum! the center The loss cost Princeton more than a puncher’s chance against No. 5 San Diego State, which upset the region’s top seed, Alabama, 71-64.

Sophomore guard Blake Peters choked up with emotion and struggled to get the words out as he sat in a quiet Princeton locker room … after a sea of ​​orange saluted and the Tigers cheered.

“It’s been a great run,” Peters began. “This senior class is amazing. … I will miss them a lot. They set the standard when we come in next year, it’s Ivy League championship or bust, NCAA Tournament or bust.” Sniffle.

“It’s tough, but… get out of here with your head held high (sniffer)…

“Not too bad for a lot of nerds.”

Ryan Langborg reacts after losing to the Creighton Bluejays in the Sweet 16 round.Getty Images

To a man, the Tigers believed they were Destiny’s Darlings, a fraternity that reminded former Princeton great Bill Bradley of the 1970 champion Knicks, the way they shared the ball, hit the open man and left their egos at Pete Carril’s old back door.

March Madness was another love affair with America, Princeton following in the footsteps of St. Peter’s a year ago and FDU this year, the 15th seed that believed in Anything Is Possible and manufactured T-shirts to remind everyone that anything is real.

Could it be that there are more than proverbial heads immersed in Introduction to Metaphysics and Epistemology or Multivariate Calculus classes?

One more win and they’d be dining at Vincenzo’s again… one more win and they’d be 40 minutes from history, 40 minutes from the Final Four, 58 years after Bradley took his Tigers there.

Somewhere Up There, Pete Carril is crying. But when the tears dry, clapping.

“Obviously I’m overwhelmed with sadness,” senior Keeshawn Kellman said. “We fought very hard, but we couldn’t get it. At the same time, looking back, it was just an amazing race. I wouldn’t trade it for anything else in the world to be able to get on this big stage with all my brothers, the guys I love, for four years.

(Sniffle) “It’s the best thing in the world.

“The best thing in my life.”

Another magical March moment the Tigers craved so much, coach Mitch Henderson enjoyed a backdoor assist by Gabe Lewullis to knock off defending champion UCLA 43-41 in 1996 in Carril’s final season as coach.

Tosan Evbuomwan moves the ball against Creighton forward Arthur Kaluma during the first half of their Sweet 16 game.Tosan Evbuomwan moves the ball against Creighton forward Arthur Kaluma during the first half of their Sweet 16 game.AP

“Wasn’t it perfect?” Henderson said after that win. “A back pass to win the game. A back door!”

No backdoor into the Elite Eight.

“It has to be elite to be one of the last eight teams standing,” Peters said.

6-foot-8 senior forward Tosan Evbuomwan (24 points, nine assists, six rebounds) and sharpshooter Ryan Langborg (11-17, 26 points) kept the Tigers in the hunt. But the Bluejays killed them in transition and 7-1 Ryan Kalkbrenner (22 points) played Goliath in Princeton when Baylor Scheierman (21 points) wasn’t throwing daggers at David.

“I’m incredibly disappointed that the season is coming to an end,” freshman Caden Pierce said, “but at the same time, I’m very proud of everything this team has accomplished.”

When Kellman forced and flexed Kalkbrenner out of bounds late in the first half, the Princeton crowd erupted. Peters then hit a 3-pointer to give Princeton a 37-33 lead. And fans in festive orange were chanting “Let’s Go Tigers” when they weren’t chanting “Dee-fense…Dee-fense.”

Alas, magic carpets can disappear at any moment in March.

Creighton stormed back to take a 52-45 lead in the first two minutes of the second half when Kalkbrenner converted a 3-point play and soon made it 56-45.

Henderson called a timeout. 15:48 left in Princeton’s Anything Is Possible Dream. It didn’t work.

Princeton coach Mitch AndersonPrinceton coach Mitch AndersonUSA TODAY Sports

“They were the better team today,” Matt Allocco said.

It was 68-52 Creighton with 12:19 left in Princeton’s Anything Is Possible dream when the Tigers turned up the heat on defense. Creighton winced. A 3-pointer by Evbuomwan cut the lead to 68-60. Still time… 7:48 to go.

The Princeton crowd begged and exhorted.

The Tigers couldn’t get any closer than seven.

“It seems like we’ve touched a lot of people,” Peters said.

Yes, they did. And they touched each other. From sea to shining sea. As far as Newcastle, England, Evbuomwan’s home.

“We’re going to have an even bigger bond, and it’s going to be special,” Evbuomwan said. “I’m sure it will last for the rest of our lives.”

Henderson has been the conductor of a basketball symphony that made sweet March music.

“Keep your heads up,” he told the players. “You’ve done something amazing for the university.”

The night the music stopped won’t change anything.

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