A tide of Tiger pride surged on campus, at Palmer Square, in Louisville and far beyond as the Princeton men’s team ended its exciting run in the 2023 NCAA Tournament with a hard-fought loss to Creighton Friday, March 24.
As game time approached Friday night, searchlight beams shot into the sky over campus from the vicinity of Whig Hall, which was awash in orange light and packed from top to bottom with students watching the game on big screens.
Across Nassau Street, Princeton alumni, faculty, staff and other fans locally jammed pubs and restaurants to cheer on the Tigers, who fell 86-75 to the Bluejays in the Sweet Sixteen.
Alumni gathered from coast to coast at watch parties while others tuned in from overseas to cheer on the Tigers — in the wee hours in England, at breakfast in Japan and in the afternoon in Australia. “We had an impromptu WhatsApp group of some Aussie tigers,” said Kara Frederick of the Class of 2001. “We all separately dressed up for the last game and it was a virtual pub crawl.”
In Louisville: A sea of black and orange
After receiving a raucous sendoff from campus Wednesday, the team got its first time on the court at the KFC Yum! Center on Thursday while scores of sports writers and camera crews swarmed. Signs around the arena and team’s hotel welcomed Princeton to March Madness. Fans began arriving at the hotel, many carrying small wooden replica Louisville Slugger baseball bats that are the city’s signature souvenir.
On Friday, a Princeton Varsity Club reception was a sea of Princeton class jackets. Scores of alumni, including former head coach John Thompson III and former player John Rogers, were in the crowd. John Mack of the Class of 2000, the Ford Family Director of Athletics, thanked everyone for turning the city orange and black.
Carla Berube, coach of the women’s basketball team, spoke about how great it was to have men’s coach Mitch Henderson as a teammate. Henderson in turn noted how the success of the women’s team — reaching the second round of their tournament only to fall to Utah — inspired the men.
During the game Friday night, a loud, large contingent of Princeton fans — bedecked in orange and black face paint, class jackets, the sold-out official Sweet 16 team T-shirt, and even a few babies in onesies — made their presence known, in the arena and on the screens of the network telecast. One section of fans stood the entire game.
Rooting from the stands were recent basketball alumni, including Ethan Wright, Jaelin Llewelyn, Drew Friberg and Will Gladson as well as women’s team alumni Bella Alarie and Taylor Baur. A group of baseball team alumni also showed up.
Even as the game slipped away from the Tigers late in the second half, Princeton fans didn’t leave until the final buzzer. On the way to the locker room, the players and coaches looked up to the fans and applauded them. When the team returned to their hotel, the band, the cheer team, family and fans gave them a sustained ovation.
On campus: A Whig Hall student watch party
Classically columned Whig Hall was the official student watch party site. With oversize portraits of the players hanging from the walls and a “Ballers and Scholars” banner emblazoned on the balcony, students filled every seat in the Senate Chamber on the second floor. Nearly every student was wearing orange and black: sweatshirts, skirts, hoodies, T-shirts, tiger ear headbands, scarves and hats.
The room erupted volcanically with cheers whenever Ryan Langborg drained one of his 3-point shots and Tosan Evbuomwan twisted his way around one of Creighton’s towering front liners to deftly drop in a basket.
All eyes were also on the game in Oakes Lounge on the main floor, where still more students filled rows of seats in front of the big screen. Chants of “De-fense, De-fense!” broke out continually, and the crowd leapt up whenever big Princeton plays happened. The audio from the telecast could only occasionally be heard above the din.
Students left their seats only at slack times, foraging for chicken fingers and other snacks. A stack of pizza boxes, empty, sat on a counter near the front of the room.
With Creighton’s victory confirmed as the final seconds ticked down, the students rose to applaud and, as midnight approached, exited to return to their dorms and the rest of their semester’s studies.
Off campus: Painting the town orange and black
At the official University watch party at Winberie’s restaurant, a “Let’s Go, Tigers!” chant broke out just before tipoff. The place was packed with alumni, faculty, staff and other fans as others waited outside.
No one in the bar and restaurant areas needed to see the screens to know how the game was going: the crowd hooted and hollered with each basket, and each shot that didn’t drop was reflected on sagging faces.
Midway through the game, one of the bartenders waved a big orange foam hand, slapping patrons with high fives to encourage the crowd and bring good fortune to the Tigers playing 700 miles to the southwest.
A block from Winberie’s, the Alchemist & Barrister was at capacity at game time, turning people away. A group of Tiger fans watched from the alley outside on this early Spring night, milling about with an incongruous bachelorette party.
Looking up Witherspoon Street toward campus, one could see the searchlight beams from the Whig Hall party illuminating FitzRandolph Gate and Nassau Hall from behind.
A swarm of orange and black filled the Yankee Doodle Taproom at the Nassau Inn. Faces in the crowd at the inn included Executive Vice President Treby Williams of the Class of 1984 and Andrea Goldsmith, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science and Arthur LeGrand Doty Professor of Electrical Engineering.
John Rustum, in town from New York City for the game, was wearing a kilt in his Class of 1987 tartan. “I love Princeton,” the first-generation collegian said.
When the TBS broadcast showed a picture of the late men’s basketball coach Pete Carril, the crowd cheered and screamed “Peeeete!”
With each bucket the Tigers made, happy bedlam ensued. When they missed, the crowd groaned a collective “awwww.”
The crowd stayed in the game as sixth man in absentia, holding out hope even in the final two minutes. One expressive fan nearly took out the group next to him with a demonstrative “thataway” gesture when a referee’s call gave Princeton possession.
At the 30 second mark, the crowd — mostly resigned to a Bluejays’ victory — broke out into one final “Let’s go Tigers” chant.
At the final buzzer, fans in the taproom — like those in the arena in Louisville, at Whig Hall, and at watch parties near and far — gave the team warm round of applause before filing out after a memorable season.
-- Molly Selter contributed to this report.
For coverage of the NCAA runs of the men’s and women’s basketball teams, student athlete championships in wrestling and track and field, as well as spring sports coverage, visit goprincetontigers.com.