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Princeton Was Almost This March’s First Cinderella

It lost a first-round nail-biter against Notre Dame, but don’t feel too bad — it’s still Princeton

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

March Madness seemed ready to start with the perfect Cinderella story. No. 12 seed Princeton, the nerdy underdog from the Ivy League, had a chance to win against no. 5 seed Notre Dame, the big boys who made the championship game of last week’s ACC tournament.

The Tigers had rallied back from a nine-point deficit and trailed by just one in the final minute of the second half on Thursday. Notre Dame’s Matt Farrell missed the front end of a one-and-one. With 11 seconds remaining, the Tigers grabbed the rebound and hurried down the court. Princeton’s Amir Bell drove down the wing, drawing a slew of defenders — including the man who should have stuck with sophomore guard Devin Cannady. Cannady rose. He fired. And he took the shot that would go down in Princeton history.

You know, if it would have gone in.

Princeton wasn’t a perfect underdog — it’s PRINCETON, for heaven’s sake, and its players will recover from this 60–58 loss by getting very good degrees and controlling the world. It was also not as absurdly outmatched in basketball as you probably want to believe: The Tigers finished 14–0 in the Ivy League, and the Ivy League has routinely produced competitive NCAA tournament teams in recent years. Harvard notched upset wins in 2013 and 2014; Yale had one last year. I kind of expected the Tigers to pull off the win.

And you’ve gotta wonder if Princeton — which hasn’t won a tourney game since 1998 — would have been better off driving to the basket to try to tie the score or draw a foul instead of a launching a 3 in the final seconds. Cannady is good from beyond the arc — he hits 42 percent of his 3s — and was able to fire in rhythm. But he also launched a 26-footer, and not exactly a wide-open one. If it goes in, it’s history. But that type of shot doesn’t go in a lot. Maybe Princeton needs to offer a math course about the difference among the numbers one, two, and three.

Sometimes March Madness is magic. Sometimes it’s just regular, exciting basketball played by good teams.