SACRAMENTO, Calif. — No. 15-seeded Princeton advanced to the Sweet 16 with 78-63 win against No. 7 Missouri on Saturday, becoming the second Ivy League team to do so since the men’s NCAA basketball tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
It is the third straight year a No. 15 has advanced from the tournament’s opening weekend and the fourth overall.
This wasn’t a typical upset, either. The 15-point win was the most lopsided win by a No. 15 seed in tournament history, and the Tigers controlled the game nearly the entire way.
Princeton built a 14-point first-half lead, only to see it slip to seven by halftime. But even then, coach Mitch Henderson had seen enough. He was convinced his team not only had what it took to play a full game with the SEC opponent, but win.
“[At halftime] I said we’re going to get on that flight tonight no matter what,” Henderson said. “When we get on that flight, we’re going to be us, and the best version of us can beat the best version of them. And they did it.”
Missouri, led by first-year head coach Dennis Gates, fell short in its attempt to make the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2009.
“We were able to get the lead one time,” Gates said. “We held the lead for 30 seconds in the entire game. Every time we got the lead or when they had the lead, we cut it to six, they came back down and did what a good team would do: Make a shot or make a play.”
Just two days after taking down No. 2 seed Arizona despite a poor shooting night, Princeton founds its stroke against Missouri. Senior Ryan Langborg — who didn’t garner any All-Ivy League honors — led all scorers with 22 points. He was effective from outside, shooting 4-of-12 from 3, and made plays going to the basket.
“He was the best player on the floor tonight, and if you want to argue, I’m happy to argue with you,” Henderson said. “I mean, he was awesome, and he’s been awesome for five straight games.”
It was far from a one-man show. Freshman Blake Peters scored 17 points, going 5-of-8 on 3-pointers, all in the second half. Star forward Tosan Evbuomwan, a native of England, commanded the most attention and used that to create open shots for his teammates.
“Tosan’s passing, you won’t see that again at Princeton for 50 years,” Henderson said. “He’s a very unique passer. When he first came to us — it was the first week of practice — it was like a brilliant, blinding light from heaven. Like, this is going to be a lot of fun.”
But even for Henderson, who won two first-round games as a player for Princeton (1996 and 1998), it would have been hard to expect this type of success. The 78 points the Tigers scored against Missouri were the most a Princeton team has scored in the NCAA tournament in the modern era.
Princeton will play the winner of Sunday’s game between Creighton and Baylor on March 24 in Louisville, Kentucky.