Princeton’s March Madness Run ends after Creighton loss

NOThe start of the second half of Princeton’s Sweet 16 game against the Creighton Bluejays on Friday night, Creighton big man Ryan Kalkbrenner, who is 7’1″, threw a monster dunk at the 6’7 Princeton forward “Zach Martini. Kalkbrenner’s mass sent Martini, who fouled Creighton’s star on the play, back; Martini took a few steps before falling to the ground. The basket, along with Kalkbrenner’s faulty shot, allowed Creighton to take seven points, 52-45, with just over 18 minutes to play.

But more than anything, the slam felt like a statement. Creighton was just too big and too good that night. The Bluejays would win the game, 86-75.

An unlikely run for Princeton, the No. 15 seed in the South Region, is now over. After shocking No. 2 Arizona and silencing No. 7 Missouri in the first two rounds, these Tigers became just the fourth 15th seed to reach the Sweet 16 in the men’s basketball tournament. NCAA. The Tigers hadn’t gone this far in the tournament since 1967.

The Elite Eight is now ready. Florida Atlantic, the No. 9 seed in the East, takes on No. 3 Kansas State in a regional final, in New York tomorrow. Out West, in Las Vegas, No. 3 Gonzaga takes on No. 4 UConn. Miami, seeded No. 5 in the Midwest Region, shocked No. 1 Houston on Friday to reach the Elite Eight, where the Hurricanes will face Texas in Kansas City on Sunday. And down south, San Diego State’s No. 5 seed will take on Creighton on Sunday in Louisville.

Learn more: Exclusive: Behind the scenes at Princeton, Cinderella of March Madness, before Sweet 16

It will be the first time since the NCAA began forming teams in 1979 that the elite will not have seeded teams.

Princeton students, fans and alumni traveled from around the world to Louisville, to witness a potentially historic run to the Final Four. Before the team headed to the arena, Princeton coach Mitch Henderson addressed a raucous crowd of some 700 Princeton supporters gathered in a hotel ballroom. He shared the words a poet friend texted him about the Tigers. “If this team were a means of transport, it would be a parachute, falling behind enemy lines.”

The fans went crazy.

“I’ve been calm all week,” Henderson said in a moment of silence afterwards, before boarding the bus. “But my heart was racing after that.”

At times it looked like a Princeton home game, especially when the Tigers were hot in the first half. The Tigers shot 51% in the first 20 minutes and 50% from three points. The problem: Creighton could barely miss. The Bluejays shot 62% from the field – and 50% from long range – to take a 47-43 halftime lead. Fans witnessed a top-notch attacking display from both teams.

As Creighton continued to flow on offense early in the second, the rims tightened for the Tigers. Princeton came out shooting 1-5 in the half and missed three straight layups. With 12:33 to go, the Bluejays are up 16 points, 68-52. Princeton sniper Blake Peters, who had two threes in the first half, missed all four of his attempts in the second. He left the field with tears in his eyes.

Crucially, Princeton had no answer for Creighton’s size and skill set. Kalkbrenner finished with 22 points, shooting 9-12. Southpaw Slivery Baylor Scheierman was turned off: He finished with 21 points, on 9-11 on total shooting and 5-7 on three. He even conceded a three-pointer in the second half. Trey Alexander added 19 points.

Creighton likely would have won by a bigger margin, but Princeton made a defensive shift – to a 1-3-1 zone – with just under 10 minutes left in the game. The move slowed Creighton a bit, but the Bluejays hit enough threes and made enough smart passes to the bigs to create lags against Princeton’s smaller players, to preserve the margin.

Two Princeton seniors, Ryan Langborg and Tosan Evbuomwan, provided the bulk of the scoring for the Tigers, finishing with 26 points and 24 points, respectively.

They will both be greatly missed in New Jersey.

After the final buzzer, Princeton players and coaching staff walked across the field to the team’s orange-clad cheer section at KFC Yum! Center. Everyone was greeting each other. It wasn’t the ending everyone wanted. But what a Cinderella ride.

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