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No. 15 Princeton storms back to shock No. 2 Arizona

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Ryan Langborg banked in a driving layup with two minutes to go Thursday to give Princeton its first lead, and second-seeded Arizona missed its final seven shots as the 15th-seeded Tigers scored a shocking 59-55 victory in a South region first-round game in Sacramento, Calif.

Princeton (22-8) finished on a 9-0 run while overcoming a 12-point second-half deficit, posting an upset reminiscent of its 1996 first-round victory over defending champion UCLA. Pac-12 tournament champion Arizona (28-7) bowed out after scoring only four points in the final 8:05 to finish with its season-low point total.

Princeton coach Mitch Henderson, who played for Princeton in the 1996 upset of UCLA, said, “We’ve enjoyed the UCLA win for a long time. These guys get that opportunity now.”

Arizona had led by 12 with 11:46 remaining, and by 10 with 8:0-5 remaining, and they still had a five-point lead when Azuolas Tubelis scored with 4:43 to play … but the Wildcats never scored again.

Keeshawn Kellman scored on a dunk and Langborg added consecutive baskets, the second with 2:03 remaining, and suddenly Princeton had a 56-55 lead. The score was still the same when Arizona called timeout with 50.4 seconds left.

Tubelis missed a shot in the lane, Tosan Evbuomwan rebounded for Princeton, and Caden Pierce was fouled with 21.7 seconds left. Pierce made both free throws to push the Tigers’ lead to three points.

The Wildcats’ last gasp ended with two missed 3-point attempts before Evbuomwan sealed the victory with a free throw with 3.0 seconds to go.

Evbuomwan led Princeton with 15 points, seven rebounds and four assists.

Tubelis had 22 points for Arizona, while Oumar Ballo posted a double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds.

Princeton advances to play in Saturday’s second round against seventh-seeded Missouri, which beat Utah State 76-65.

“I knew it was going to be a hard game,” said Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd. “Princeton is hard to play against. They’ve got a great plan.

“We had opportunities to kind of stretch a lead and make it more difficult for them, and we didn’t. Sometimes when you get in those moments, the pressure flips a little bit.”

It marks the fourth time Arizona has lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament as a No. 4 seed or higher — falling as a No. 2 seed to Santa Clara in 1993, as a No. 3 to East Tennessee State in 1992, and as a No. 4 seed to Buffalo in 2018.

“They’re a little bit playing with house money, and maybe your guys get a little bit tight,” Lloyd said. “and I didn’t think we were great down the stretch. That’s something we’re going to have to live with, but I take my hat off to Princeton. They should enjoy the moment.”

After clinging to a 31-30 halftime lead, the Wildcats tightened their defense, which allowed them to turn up the pace of the game for a while. Arizona expanded its advantage to 12 with 11:46 to go, but the Tigers clawed back despite making only 4 of 25 3-pointers for the game.

Princeton played pick-your-poison defense, intent on stopping transition, packing the paint and double-teaming most entry passes. While Tubelis and Ballo still managed to get their numbers, Arizona managed just eight fast-break points and two second-chance points. Arizona’s guards were reluctant to shoot and nearly invisible in the half-court game, including a three-point, four-turnover effort from point guard Kerr Kriisa.

Arizona went to its strength early, as Tubelis and Ballo combined to score the team’s first 11 points — and 22 of the first 27 — as the Wildcats eventually built a 31-22 first-half lead. But Arizona failed to score for almost the final four minutes of the half, while Princeton closed with an 8-0 run to make it 31-30 at the break.

Blake Peters made three 3-pointers to finish with nine points for Princeton. Langborg and Keeshawn Kellman (4-for-4 shooting) each tallied eight.

–Field Level Media

Field Level Media was founded by sports media executives with more than 40 years of combined experience working with the most influential media companies in the industry.

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