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Kentucky 59 Princeton 57.

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Postgame audio - Coach Sydney Johnson, Dan Mavraides, Kareem Maddox & Douglas Davis:

Locker room audio - Kareem Maddox:

Locker room audio - Dan Mavraides:

Locker room audio - Coach Sydney Johnson:

When it ended, one basket shy of all they had worked for, the man who profoundly despised losing as both a player and a coach did something unexpected and beautiful.

He allowed his team to say goodbye.

Before heading back into the depths of the St. Pete Times Forum after a two point defeat in the final two seconds against the SEC champion Kentucky Wildcats, Princeton coach Sydney Johnson motioned his players not to the locker room but towards the Tiger faithful sitting across from his team's bench.

First came senior Dan Mavraides, having just concluded his final collegiate contest wherein he led his team with 14 points and tied the game on a step back jumper in the lane that hung, hoped and stuck with 34 seconds remaining for a 57-57 score.

Mavraides blew kisses with both hands, his teammates joining him pointing to family and friends applauding in the stands.

"It was hard to do that. But I felt like we owed it to our fans. We didn't want to celebrate a loss in any way, shape or form," Johnson said of the gesture. "That's not what it was about."

"As much as I love our guys, they have to realize that we're all people and we've all got to do things the right way. When someone is giving you the support that our fans have given us, you've got to say thank you," Johnson added.

"You can't take that for granted."

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Princeton 63 Harvard 62.

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Postgame audio - Coach Sydney Johnson, Douglas Davis, Kareem Maddox & Dan Mavraides:

As I stood on the floor in disbelief, unable to properly take in what had transpired, I found myself drifting next to Roger Gordon '73 - the unofficial Princeton assistant coach who has sat on the bench - or perhaps more properly stood next to it - at different times over the years alongside Pete Carril, Bill Carmody, John Thompson III, Joe Scott and now Sydney Johnson.

Gordon has been a constant through decades of change, always on the periphery of the frame.

"This is for all of Pete's shots that didn't go in," he said quietly watching the 2010-11 Ivy League champions start to cut down the nets at Payne Whitney Gym.

His team trailing by one with :02.8 on the clock and senior tri-captain Dan Mavraides inbounding under the Tiger basket, Douglas Davis was able to take the ball in the left corner, dribble twice to his right, use a pump fake to create a sliver of space underneath Harvard's Oliver McNally and lean in for a true jumper as time expired to send Princeton to their first NCAA Tournament since 2004.

This one did go in.

"I got a good screen from Will Barrett," a still-stunned Davis said. "Originally I thought they were going to deny me the ball but I was able to get open. I took a couple dribbles and was able to fade. It felt good, went in and I fell on the ground."

"That was the worst decision I ever made because everybody just jumped on me."

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Princeton 70 Penn 58.

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Postgame audio - Coach Sydney Johnson, Kareem Maddox & Dan Mavraides:

Postgame audio - Ian Hummer:

Postgame audio - Dan Mavraides:

Every day from the time he was hired on April 23rd, 2007 Princeton head coach Sydney Johnson has shown up for work and seen it.

It hangs high above the floor of center court at Jadwin Gym, furthest to the right of the five identical orange and black banners.

The other four rectangles are bloated with 24 different white-stitched years.

It is stark by comparison.

Princeton Men's Basketball
Ivy League Champions

To the right of those numbers, there has remained a void of empty black space longing to be filled.

With the Tigers' 70-58 win at Penn to close the 2010-11 regular season, the gonfalone will finally be altered. Princeton erased an early eight point second half deficit and outscored Penn 36-15 over a 13 minute stretch to secure a share of the Ivy League title.

Now the Tigers will play Harvard on Saturday afternoon at Yale to decide which school represents the conference in the NCAA Tournament.

"I've dreamed about this moment for a long time, since the day I arrived at Princeton," Johnson said from the cramped Palestra media room. "That was my goal for our players. I wanted them to have the experience I had."

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Harvard 79 Princeton 67.

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Postgame audio - Coach Sydney Johnson, Kareem Maddox & Dan Mavraides:

Security moved the fancy black chairs with red school crests on the back away from in front of the Harvard student section in the final minute on Saturday night, then at the horn the Crimson fans raced to center court leaping up and down.

400 strong, hopping and jumping and cheering following the home team's 79-67 victory over Princeton.

The Tigers shook hands with their counterparts from Harvard, frustrated they were unable to clinch the 2010-11 Ivy League title outright and fully aware that to advance to the NCAA Tournament they would now have to win on Tuesday at the Palestra versus Penn and again on a neutral site in a third match with the Crimson.

Instead of walking away with their backs to the jubilation up the narrow staircase leading to the visiting locker room, Tiger head coach Sydney Johnson had his team remain on the bench as spectators filed out of Lavietes Pavilion past them.

There they sat in silence.

Watching Harvard. Watching their fans.

Nearly five minutes passed.

"I think it is important to understand what's at stake," Johnson said. "I think it is important to see other people celebrate. You want to be that team."

Eventually the Princeton players and staff stood as one and traipsed away from the festivities they had hoped to be a part of.

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Princeton 77 Dartmouth 55.

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Postgame audio - Coach Sydney Johnson, Kareem Maddox & Douglas Davis:

Finally, we can talk about Saturday.

With Harvard out to a comfortable 22 point lead over Penn and Princeton trailing by one in Hanover, a 16-0 run sparked by the play of Will Barrett and T.J. Bray off the bench turned that Dartmouth lead midway through the first half into a 33-18 Princeton advantage and the Tigers held a double digit buffer the rest of the night.

Douglas Davis was one of four Princeton players in double figures, nine of his 14 coming in the first half. Ian Hummer and Kareem Maddox each contributed 12 and Patrick Saunders hit three times from behind the arc in the second half despite a broken left thumb on his way to 11.

A three point play from Brendan Connolly and a lefty Hummer jump hook made it a 40-20 game to open the second stanza. The margin extended to as wide as 25 and the Big Green would get no closer than 14.

Princeton, which shot 50.8% from the floor versus Dartmouth, heads to Harvard tomorrow. A win would advance the Tigers to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004. A loss presents a far more difficult path. Princeton would need to beat Penn on Tuesday and then defeat Harvard on a neutral floor later that week to decide the Ivy League's NCAA bid.

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Princeton 66 Columbia 61.

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Postgame audio - Coach Sydney Johnson, Kareem Maddox, Bobby Foley & Dan Mavraides:

The opening 33 minutes of Dan Mavraides' final night at Jadwin Gym were a disaster - scoreless on 0-7 shooting from the floor with four turnovers.

His team, which had defeated Columbia by 30 two weeks ago, trailed the Lions 50-44 in a game Princeton had to win to stay right behind Harvard for first place in the Ivy League.

Starting with a tie up of Brian Barbour to give Princeton back the ball, Mavraides took over the end of the end - scoring all 14 of his points in the last 6:15 as the Tigers rallied for a five point win.

"There was a moment where I looked at the clock when we were down six, the game had been miserable for me specifically," recalled the senior tri-captain. "I was just like 'Why am I nervous? Why am I scared? We've been in this position a lot, I've played in this gym all the time, I've made a million shots in this gym.' I just said to myself 'just play in the moment.'"

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Princeton 84 Cornell 66.

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Postgame audio - Coach Sydney Johnson, Dan Mavraides & Ian Hummer:

Cornell aspired to decelerate Princeton like they did 13 days previous up in Ithaca, where they held the Tigers under 60 points for the first time this season and it took a Kareem Maddox jumper in the final 10 seconds to decide the outcome.

The second meeting between the two schools was not as drawn out, just as Princeton head coach Sydney Johnson likes his team to play.

"Here's a little bit of propaganda, but it's from the heart: I think people, they try to slow us down," Johnson said. "As amazing as that sounds - that's how I feel, that people are trying to break our rhythm. What I share with the guys is if we can do it in a wise fashion, we want to break the press and go."

In the latter third of his 29 years at Princeton, Pete Carril bemoaned that if he had faster players on his roster he would play at a faster tempo. It has taken Johnson four seasons - his first year Princeton's pace was 331st in the nation - but his lineup now allows his team to hasten their offense when the opportunities are there.

The tortoise has become the hare.

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Mercer 60 Morris 47.

Postgame audio - Coach Howie Levy:

Perhaps it is because the pall of Saturday night in Providence still hangs heavy over my head, but walking away from tonight's Region XIX quarterfinal between County College of Morris and Mercer County Community College I felt like I had been at the most enjoyable basketball game I'd attended this season.

While the fourth-seeded Vikings (15-15) had just one field goal in the opening nine minutes and trailed by as many as 13 to the fifth-seeded Titans in front of a festive, opinionated and energetic home crowd, coach Howie Levy's team always seemed two possessions away from gaining control of the game.

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Brown 75 Princeton 65.

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Postgame audio - Coach Sydney Johnson & Kareem Maddox:

Brown had the gameplan - clog the lane with five defenders planting at least one leg in the paint at all times and make Princeton's outside shooters beat the Bears. The strategy was not dissimilar from last season's second meeting at Jadwin where Brown dared Marcus Schroeder to beat them from behind the arc.

The approach was a successful one.

Douglas Davis went 0-7 from three point range. Dan Mavraides missed both his attempts. Patrick Saunders was 1-6, his conversion ending a stretch of 12 straight off-target triples to open Princeton's night. The Tigers hit 4 of 21 as a team, with two of the makes coming in the last minute.

Brown freshman guard Sean McGonagill was able to penetrate effectively and the Tigers' help defense was inadequate. The Bears opened up as large as an 11 point lead on Garrett Leffelman's left corner rainbow late in the first half, before Princeton scored six straight in the final 1:18 to close within five.

"We got a little bit scrappier and used our defense to get back into the game," said head coach Sydney Johnson about how his team ended the opening frame. "We converted well offensively on our last possession but we didn't really apply ourselves they way we needed defensively long enough to make it a win for us."

The Tigers' lone lead came at the 12:28 mark of the second half on a short Ian Hummer jumper. It didn't last long - one possession to be specific. Leffelman out of the left corner returned the edge to Brown, which they held to the horn.

Converting their first 23 free throws, the Bears were able to withstand each and every Princeton push.

With 5:28 to play, Dan Mavraides found Mack Darrow for a three on the right wing that drew Princeton within 58-55. A driving Tucker Halpern kicked to McGonagill open on the left side for three and the Bears' lead stayed at two possessions.

Senior Peter Sullivan completed his return from a shoulder injury at Jadwin with a game-best 26 points and 16-16 shooting at the line.

Kareem Maddox dropped 19 battling multiple defenders inside and Hummer added 18 points and 12 boards in defeat.

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Princeton 58 Yale 51.

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Postgame audio - Coach Sydney Johnson, Dan Mavraides & Kareem Maddox:

Princeton did just about everything well but shoot and it was enough.

The Tigers led the entire way, fending off a pair of Yale second half rallies, holding the Bulldogs to 37.8% from the floor.

With their advantage cut to 52-49 in the final two minutes on Reggie Willhite's explosive left baseline dunk, Kareem Maddox posted up inside, spun into the lane and hung in the air as Greg Mangano fouled him on the elbow while the ball floated through the netting. Maddox's three point play doubled the Tiger lead - which stayed at two possessions through the final buzzer.

"This game was an absolute dogfight," said head coach Sydney Johnson. "I'm not saying we were going to win [after Yale drew within three], but we had been in those moments before."

"We weren't afraid of the moment."

Maddox finished with 16 points and nine rebounds on 5-12 shooting. Fellow senior Dan Mavraides put up 15 and a career best 10 boards despite going 4-14 on the evening.

Mangano ended Friday with his traditional double-double (15 and 12) but was bothered by an assortment of Princeton defenders (Maddox, Patrick Saunders, Brendan Connolly and Mack Darrow) so that when the ball went inside to the likely All Ivy center it could not come back to the perimeter. Mangano had six turnovers and no assists. The Tiger guards sagged but were still able to cover the arc - both of Yale's three pointers (2-9) belonged to Mangano - one a wild bank with the shot clock expiring.

The Tigers hit a season low 31.6% of their attempts (18-57) but stellar defensive possessions and a 19-25 clip at the line (76.0%) aided the cause.

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Princeton 57 Cornell 55.

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Postgame audio - Coach Sydney Johnson & Kareem Maddox:

Stop for a second and don't look at tonight. The moment isn't there. Don't think about Kareem Maddox's meritable stat line and his game-winning jumper with 10 seconds left off a breaking design. That's not the moment. Don't consider Princeton's two point win over Cornell at all.

Look at January 30th, 2010 in New Haven. There you'll find the moment.

The moment comes late in the first half, with Princeton up one over Yale. Marcus Schroeder finds Kareem Maddox inside and the junior forward goes up with a high right-handed jump hook.

That's the moment where Kareem Maddox knew - knew he wasn't a jump shooter, knew he was wasting his time on the perimeter, knew the coaches had been right all along.

Without that moment Kareem Maddox doesn't go for 23 points, six rebounds, three assists, four blocks and a steal as a senior this evening. Without that moment Princeton doesn't improve to 19-4 and 7-0 in the Ivy League.

Maddox could have selected any moment when asked about a point where the switch flipped and he turned the proverbial corner from athlete to basketball player. This is the moment he chose.

"The coaches had been telling me that I could be a post player for the past few years and I guess that never clicked," Maddox recalled. "I made that hook and as silly as it sounds I think that changed me into a more of a post player than a shooter."

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Princeton 76 Columbia 46.

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Postgame audio - Coach Sydney Johnson, Ian Hummer & Dan Mavraides:

It is hard to decide. I'll let you choose. Which was more impressive?

The way Princeton was able to dominate Columbia inside or the way the Tigers shut down the Lions on defense?

Ian Hummer scored a career best 25 points on 9-13 shooting and added 12 rebounds as Princeton raced to an 8-2 lead and never trailed. It was Hummer's fourth double-double of the campaign.

Kareem Maddox (10 points, seven rebounds) and Dan Mavraides (a steady 17) were able to frustrate the Ivy League's leading scorer Noruwa Agho into 6-16 marksmanship and four turnovers. No other Lion hit double digits.

The Tigers had 13 assists against one TO in the opening frame, building a 42-26 edge at the break as they assisted on 76.5% of their baskets. Ben Hazel's coast-to-coast drive and dish to Brendan Connolly ended a 13-2 run at the horn. The lead stayed above 12 for the final 22:22.

In the second half the Lions made 4-29 (13.8%) of their attempts and did not record a field goal in the final 15:07 of regulation. Columbia reached the final buzzer at 27.6%, a season low for a Tiger foe.

"I was really pleased with their focus," Tigers head coach Sydney Johnson said of his team's overall performance. "I was very, very pleased with how we competed defensively."

Douglas Davis had 10, giving him 1,015 points for his career and moving him past Will Venable into 26th on the Princeton scoring chart.

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