Sacramento, California. — At the start of the Ivy League men’s basketball tournament last week, Princeton seniors Tosan Evbumwan, Ryan Langborg and Keeshon Kelman knew every time they took the court, it could be their last game for the Tigers.
On the face of it, there is nothing unique about that dynamic. That’s how college sports work. But for this trio of starters, their four-year college careers have been anything but normal.
As freshmen in 2019–20, their season was cut short due to COVID-19 just before the start of the Ivy League Tournament, robbing them of a chance to advance to the NCAA Tournament. In 2020-21, the Ivy League canceled the entire winter sports season. Last season, they were upset by top-seeded Yale in the Ivy League championship game.
All in all, it made a lot of sense this season, as despite NCAA eligibility, the Ivy League has not budgeted from its position to limit its athletes to a four-year window to compete. That’s something Princeton as an institution also believes in, according to coach Mitch Henderson.
“We have [two] Other seniors who have qualifications. Each of these guys has an extra year,” Henderson said. “It doesn’t change anything for us. We are very much about the four-year process.
“At Princeton, we’re about growing student-athletes over a four-year process. I hope we’re not calling it a stick in the mud. It’s more of who we are. We expect them to be after senior year. To go out and make some pretty serious contributions to their community. able.”
However, it’s still tempting to wonder what this team could be like with one more year — or what this team would be like if the players who had NCAA eligibility last season return. Three of its five leading scorers last season — Jaylin Llewellyn (Michigan), Ethan Wright (Colorado) and Drew Friberg (Belmont) — have all transferred, along with a fourth in Max Johns, who landed at Duke.
It was possible that they could all have left of their own accord, but it was not theirs to decide. The time spent at Princeton made last year’s championship game even more painful.
“We can hardly see [NCAA] tournament,” Henderson said.
Perhaps that makes this run even more special. The Tigers are just the second Ivy League team to advance to the Sweet 16 since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 (Cornell was the other in 2012), and before Saturday they went through a No. 2 seed full of future pros in Arizona. Dominating win over seventh seed Missouri, 78-63.
Langborgh, Ivboomwan and Kelman were at its center.
For Langborg, the only player in the game from California, it was a homecoming of sorts. He hails from the opposite end of the state, in San Diego, but as a high school senior in 2019, Langborg won the La Jolla Country Day Division III state title with a 25-point performance in a game that took place at Golden 1 Center, home of the Sacramento Kings.
🗣️ “They don’t want to see us”@PrincetonMBB Not done yet #MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/fNWSYpraW7
— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessMBB) March 19, 2023
“When we had that play, I think we had three combined 3s,” Langborg said. “I think it helped to have played here before. I felt comfortable in this environment, even though there were a little less 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 had suffocated a great 3-point-shooting Utah State team just two days earlier.
This would not have been possible without the inside presence of Evebumwan and Kelman. They may be the only two players on the Princeton roster who match Mizzou’s size and strength down low, yet Princeton still dominated the rebounding battle 44-30 — 16 coming from freshman Caden Pierce.