PRINCETON N.J. — Ivy basketball is back, and this time Penn versus Princeton was a lot closer.
In a rematch of last year’s Ivy League Tournament championship, which the Tigers won 63-34, the Quakers kept this one much tighter before edging out a 66-60 win over their rivals and defending Ivy champions.
Playing at Princeton’s Jadwin Gym, the Red and Blue (9-2, 1-0 Ivy) jumped out to an early lead before a Princeton run in the third quarter put them behind. A solid fourth quarter and clutch free throw shooting from junior guard Phoebe Sterba toward the end of the game kept Penn on top.
“Last year, we just couldn’t find our way with this team, and this year it was really important to start strong,” senior captain Ashley Russell said.
Both teams entered the game not having lost since November and carrying significant winning streaks — Penn with four straight wins and Princeton (8-8, 0-1) with seven — so both teams had momentum on their side coming into Saturday.
Pacing the Quakers were Sterba with a career-high 21 points, sophomore center Eleah Parker with 14, and senior forward Princess Aghayere with 12. Sterba was Penn’s biggest weapon from behind the arc, burying a game-high five three-pointers, and sank four clutch free throws in the last minute to seal the win for the Quakers.
“Credit to Phoebe, I thought she was terrific,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “She’s really starting to play the game at a high level.”
Parker starred for the Red and Blue on defense, putting up seven rebounds, five blocks, and two steals. Aghayere had Penn’s only double-double on the game, adding 12 rebounds to go with her dozen points.
After missing Princeton's first eight games with a broken arm, last season’s Ivy League Player of the Year Bella Alarie was back and just as tough for Penn to handle. The junior resumed her dominance on the court and led the home team with 21 points and 17 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough.
“[Alarie] just gives you so many problems on both ends of the floor, but I thought we did the best we could with her,” McLaughlin said.
Penn sped out to an early 18-11 lead after one quarter, but Princeton cut the lead to just one midway through the second at 26-25. However, the Red and Blue rallied with late buckets from Aghayere, sophomore forward Tori Crawford, and Parker to close the half up five at 33-28.
The third quarter was a completely different story, however. Penn went cold from the floor, shooting just 3 of 12 for six points the entire quarter. The Red and Blue routinely ran the shot clock down, leading to two consecutive violations to hand the ball right back to the Tigers.
Princeton, on the other hand, heated up and roared back to take the lead midway through the quarter, ultimately entering the fourth up five at 44-39.
A monster final quarter from Penn saw them put up 27 points to Princeton’s 16, and although the two teams could not be separated for a large part of the quarter, a pair of key free throws from Sterba with 15 seconds left cemented the win.
With just 4:17 left, the teams deadlocked were at 52, but Penn went on a 9-2 run through five different players to open up a seven point lead with less than a minute left.
Two late three-pointers from Princeton made things interesting and sent the home crowd into a frenzy, but despite some good looks for Alarie, the Tigers could not convert anything beyond that.
Ivy play has begun, but it won't resume until next month when the Ivy weekend slate begins. The Quakers are off until Jan. 16 when they resume their Big 5 schedule at home against Villanova.