NCAA Tournament – Princeton Didn’t Play 2020-21 Season Due to COVID; now they are in march madness sweet 16

Kyle BonaguraESPN Author3 minutes read

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Starting with last week’s Ivy League men’s basketball tournament, Princeton seniors Tosan Evbuomwan, Ryan Langborg and Keeshawn Kellman knew that every time they stepped onto the court, it would be their last game for the Tigers could.

At first glance, there is nothing unique about this dynamic. This is how college sports work. But for this starter trio, their four-year college career was anything but normal.

As freshmen in 2019-20, their season was cut short before the start of the Ivy League tournament due to COVID-19, depriving them of a chance to play through to the NCAA tournament. In 2020/21, the Ivy League canceled the entire winter sports season. Last season, they were upset in the Ivy League championship game as Yale’s top seed.

Overall, there has been a lot this season because, despite remaining NCAA eligibility, the Ivy League has not deviated from its position of restricting its athletes to a four-year window to compete. Princeton as an institution also believes in that, according to coach Mitch Henderson.

“We have [two] other seniors who are eligible. Each of these guys has an extra year,” Henderson said. “It doesn’t change anything for us. We are very concerned about the four-year process.

“Princeton, we are concerned with the student-athlete’s growth throughout the four-year process. I hope that doesn’t mean we’re a stick in the mud. It is very much what we are. We expect that after senior year they’ll be able to go out and make some pretty serious contributions to their communities.”

However, it’s still tempting to think about what this team might look like another year together — or how this team would have looked if the NCAA-eligible players who were left over last season had returned. Three of last season’s top five scorers — Jaelin Llewellyn of Michigan, Ethan Wright of Colorado and Drew Friberg of Belmont — all made changes, along with a fourth in Max Johns, who ended up at Duke.

Princeton has already achieved the best modern Ivy League run in tournament history? How far can the tigers go?Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

It’s possible they all left of their own volition, but the choice wasn’t theirs. The reduced time at Princeton made last year’s championship game even more painful.

“We could hardly watch [NCAA] tournament,” said Henderson.

Maybe it makes this run even more special. The Tigers are only the second Ivy League team to advance into the Sweet 16 since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 (Cornell was the other in 2012), and they progressed through a #2 full of prospects ahead of Saturday in Arizona Pros dominant win over seventh-seeded Missouri, 78-63.

Langborg, Evbuomwan and Kellman took center stage.

It was a homecoming of sorts for Langborg, the only player in the game from California. He hails from across the state, in San Diego, but as a high school senior in 2019, Langborg led La Jolla Country Day to the Division III state title with a 25-point performance in a game also played at the Golden 1 Center, the home of the kings of Sacramento.

“When we had that game, we had like three 3-pointers combined,” Langborg said. “I think it helped to play here before. I feel comfortable in this environment, even though there were a little fewer people [in high school].”

On Saturday, Princeton had no trouble shooting. Langborg drilled four 3-pointers and teammate Blake Peters hit five. It all came against a physical Missouri team that just two days earlier choked off a great 3-point shooting team, Utah State.

It would not have been possible without the presence of Evbuomwan and Kellman inside. They may be the only two players on the Princeton roster with the size and strength to take on Mizzou at the low, but Princeton still dominated the rebound fight 44-30 – 16 of which came from newcomer Caden Pierce.

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