No. 2 seed Arizona upset by Princeton in 1st round of NCAA Tournament

Mar 16, 2023, 3:23 PM | Updated: 4:59 pm
Oumar Ballo #11 of the Arizona Wildcats shoots the ball against Matt Allocco #14 of the Princeton T...
Oumar Ballo #11 of the Arizona Wildcats shoots the ball against Matt Allocco #14 of the Princeton Tigers during the first half in the first round of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Golden 1 Center on March 16, 2023 in Sacramento, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The No. 15 seed Princeton Tigers upset the No. 2 seed Arizona Wildcats 59-55 on Thursday in the NCAA Tournament first-round game.

Azuolas Tubelis scored 22 points to lead the Wildcats, but it was far from a clean game for him and his teammates.

Tubelis turned the ball over six times and struggled from the field against a Princeton team that clogged the paint and ran shooters off the three-point line.

Arizona went 3-for-16 from deep and only got to the foul stripe seven times. Meanwhile, the Tigers hung around despite shooting 41% and just 4-of-25 from three.

“We ran into a good team today that made the right plays at the right time,” head coach Tommy Lloyd said. “We weren’t able to separate from them enough when we had opportunities. That’s what happens when you’re able to stick around a basketball game.

“They made enough plays down the stretch and we didn’t.”

Tosan Evbuomwan scored 15 points to go with seven rebounds and four assists for Princeton.

For Arizona, Tubelis and center Oumar Ballo provided the large bulk of their team’s offense, combining for 35.

Ballo added 13 points and 12 rebounds, and guard Courtney Ramey’s eight points was the height of Arizona’s contributions from its perimeter players.

The Wildcats led 31-30 at halftime after an 8-0 Princeton run to end the half and had a combined eight points contributed from players not named Tubelis or Ballo.

The Wildcats’ three primary wings in Ramey, Cedric Henderson Jr. and Pelle Larsson accounted for just two points and took a combined four attempts.

Meanwhile, Lloyd made a semi-irregular rotation decision, tagging in freshman center Henri Veesaar coming out of a timeout he called after the Wildcats allowed a straight-line drive lead to a dunk.

The Tigers led the Wildcats in points in the paint, 24-16, in the first half. Their control on the game continued into the second after taking a few early punches.

The Wildcats stretched the lead to double-digits at multiple points in the second half, but Princeton pulled within 55-54 with 2:24 left in the game and went ahead for good with 2:03 to play.

Ramey, who hit a game-winning shot in the Pac-12 Tournament, missed a contested 3-pointer with 14 seconds left that could have tied the game. Kerr Kriisa also missed from long range after an offensive rebound, as the Wildcats then missed all five shots down the stretch and Princeton put it away at the foul line.

“If you want to be a great player, you want to be a great coach, we all got to learn from this,’” Lloyd said.

“We got to go back and figure out what happened and understand the value of being up 10 to 12 points with 10 minutes to go, putting the hammer on people, not letting people get back in the game.”

Princeton advanced to play seventh-seeded Missouri in the second round of the South Region. The Tigers beat Utah State 76-65.

Thursday marked the third straight year and 11th time overall that a No. 15 seed won a first-round game. Arizona is the only school to be on the wrong end of one of those upsets twice, also losing to Steve Nash and Santa Clara in 1993.

“Pretty surreal feeling,” Tigers guard Matt Allocco said.

“To beat a great team like that on this stage is a pretty special feeling. But also I can’t say I’m surprised. This team has been so good all year, so gritty. On paper, it’s going to look like a big upset. But we believe in each other and we think we’re a really good team.”

Princeton will look to win two games in the tournament for the first time since 1983.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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