SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — As the final minute ticked off the clock, the Princeton fans started chanting “Sweet 16! Sweet 16!” and coach Mitch Henderson cleared the bench with the victory easily in hand.
This upset was no small-school fluke against a more heralded team. It was a thoroughly dominating performance that sent Princeton to a place it hadn’t been in more than a half-century.
Blake Peters made five 3-pointers in the second half and Princeton shocked another power conference team to reach the NCAA Tournament regional semifinals for the first time in 56 years by beating Missouri 78-63 on Saturday.
“The world looks at us as two upsets,” forward Tosan Evbuomwan said. “But I feel like we’re supposed to be here. We have a lot of confidence in one another, what we’re doing. There’s definitely no letup with this group.”
The No. 15 seeded Princeton (23-8) followed up a first-round win over Pac-12 tournament champion Arizona by overwhelming seventh-seeded Missouri (25-10) of the Southeastern Conference from the start.
The Ivy League school known for giving powerhouses scares and occasionally pulling off upsets a generation ago has reached the round of 16 for the first time since 1967 when only 23 teams even made the tournament.
“I have no words for you,” Peters said. “We have such an unbelievable section (of fans) here. I have the best teammates in the world. I love each and every one of them. when we go out and believe in each other, anything is possible. I know it’s cliche, but anything is possible.”
Princeton will play the winner of Sunday’s game between Baylor and Creighton in the Sweet 16 in Louisville, Kentucky, on Friday night.
The Tigers will be the second Ivy League school to make the Sweet 16 in the past 43 tournaments, joining Cornell in 2010. No team from the academically prestigious league that doesn’t give athletic scholarships has gone further since Penn made the Final Four in 1979.
“I’ve always dreamed of playing deep into the tournament,” said Henderson, a player on Princeton’s teams in 1996 and ’98 that won first-round games. “As a player, got to the second round a couple times. Never got beyond it.”
This marks the third straight year a team seeded 15th made it to the Sweet 16, following Oral Roberts in 2021 and fellow New Jersey school Saint Peter’s last year. The only other time a 15 seed made it this far came in 2013 when Florida Gulf Coast did it.
Ryan Langborg led Princeton with 22 points and Peters added 17.
DeAndre Gholston scored 19 points and Noah Carter added 14 for Missouri, which was seeking its first berth in the Sweet 16 since 2009.
“We were able to get the lead one time,” coach Dennis Gates said. “We held the lead for 30 seconds in the entire game. Every time we got the lead or when they had the lead, we cut it to six, they came back down and did what a good team would do: Make a shot or make a play.”
Princeton showed no signs of being outclassed against another power conference team, controlling the play from the start. Keeshawn Kellman had two dunks and a blocked shot in a span of 16 seconds midway through the half.
Princeton built the lead to 10 points on a corner 3 by Zach Martini and went up 33-19 on a drive by Evbuomwan.
Missouri responded by scoring the final seven points of the half to go into the break down seven.
Every time Missouri threatened early in the second half, Princeton had an answer with Peters hitting five 3-pointers. The fourth gave Princeton a 62-43 lead and Missouri never threatened after that.
“Blake Peters has been making shots coming off the bench for us for weeks,” Henderson said. “This is a very, very confident group. We are so thrilled to be going to the Sweet 16. It is an absolute pleasure being around these guys. They just grit their teeth and they do it.”
Princeton: Princeton was more than a match physically with Missouri with a 44-30 rebounding edge and 16 offensive rebounds that led to 19 second-chance points. Caden Pierce led the way with 16 rebounds.
“They’re playing absolutely fearless,” Henderson said. “They’re unafraid of anyone.”
Missouri: Coach Dennis Gates’ first season at Missouri was a successful one with 25 wins but still had a disappointing finish.
Princeton will look for its first Elite Eight appearance since 1965 when Bill Bradley was the star.