Princeton gave Kentucky everything it could handle and then some in Tampa today. The Tigers, who were making their first NCAA Tournament appearance in seven years, fell short only by a Brandon Knight floater high off the glass in the game's final seconds.
The 59-57 final score is a reasonable reflection of the game. But it leaves out the Tigers' five-point lead with 12:39 left in the second half, as well as the rally from four points down with 2:01 remaining to tie the score in the final minute.
The winning shot was the kind of play that separates big-conference powers from non-scholarship minnows. Even with Princeton's storied NCAA Tournament history, there's only so much any team can do against a five-star freshman with millions of NBA dollars in his future.
Here is the Tigers' postgame press conference, courtesy of ASAP Sports. On the dais were coach Sydney Johnson, Douglas Davis, Kareem Maddox and Dan Mavraides.
Q. Kareem, would you talk about what you saw on the last drive, on the last basket there?
KAREEM MADDOX: Yeah, we just switched, and Brandon Knight kind of blew by me for the game-winning bucket. That's about what I saw.
Q. Dan, was there a specific moment after the team went down 11-2 where you felt like you guys settled in and started playing like you wanted to play?
DAN MAVRAIDES: Yeah. You know, they came out firing a little bit. I don't know what it was for us, maybe another big stage, a little jitters or something, but they took a little early lead. But I knew we would settle in. We always have this whole season.
I'm not sure when it came, but once we got a couple easy lay-ups and started running our offense and doing what we do, we calmed down and got back to our stuff.
Q. For Doug or Dan, describe what you guys did on Brendan, and did you expect him specifically, even though he had not made a shot, to be the guy to try to create one there?
DOUGLAS DAVIS: We did a good job as a team, the team defense. Brandon is a good player, so you have to get a good effort from both teams to stop him. But he's a player. In the last seconds you expect players to make plays, so...
DAN MAVRAIDES: Yeah, I think it was a tough lay-up. I think it was a difficulty 10 lay-up. You know, Kareem is our longest, biggest defender. There's no one else I would rather have on him driving to the basket in that late-game situation. And like you said, before that he was 0 for 7 but he made the one that counted. It was a great shot; you've got to tip your hat to him.
Q. Dan, at the end of the game when you guys didn't score, kind of with the fans serenading you a little bit, give us your thoughts on those final seconds being on the court and what that meant to you?
DAN MAVRAIDES: Yeah, there was a lot of emotion flowing through my head, very disappointed. But you know, being a senior and ending on this note is not all bad. You know, we came from a rough beginning as freshmen. My class with Kareem and Bobby, and we're helping turn this program in the right direction.
These fans, they've been amazing. They've been really amazing. They come with us on the road to every game, and to have a section over there almost yelling just as loud as the Kentucky gym was an amazing experience. So we had to give them some love because they've really been there for us and helped us through this season. So just a lot of emotions.
Q. This is for Dan. The shot that tied the game, what was the plan on that play?
DAN MAVRAIDES: I can't remember what the play was. I think it was an out of bounds play. And I just kind of got a ball screen or I was driving towards the middle, and you know, he was just -- I was able to create some space on the step-back and was open. I thought it was just as good as any shot we were going to get in that possession, so just let it go up, and it went in.
Q. Kareem and Dan, I think a lot of people in the country turned on this game today expecting to see you try to slow it down, to back door them, all the stuff that Princeton is known for. Looked like you just played them basket for basket. Was there a certain point you felt like you could beat this team when you were out there?
KAREEM MADDOX: Definitely. I think we prepared this whole week to beat these guys, and you know, our team believed that we could do it. I mean, I don't know if there was one moment where the switch kind of flipped, but you know, I just think we knew what kind of team we had and what kind of heart we had, and we knew we could compete.
DAN MAVRAIDES: Yeah, pretty much the same thing. You know, we've had a lot of confidence in each other from day one this season. You know, we knew we had a lot of talent and great coaching, so once we settled into the game, we knew we could play with them.
I personally believe we had a tough game against Duke in the beginning of the season, but as we moved on and have been through a lot of experiences, you know, I think we can play with anyone in the country, and I think hopefully we showed that tonight at the very least.
Q. Doug, that stretch in the first half where 11 consecutive points for the team, what took over for you in that stretch?
DOUGLAS DAVIS: I don't know, the ball was falling and I was able to get open for my teammates to set me up. We just ran off and I was able to get open and knock down some shots.
Q. Did they do anything different in the second half, switch up some stuff, or were you just not feeling the shot as much in the second half?
DAN MAVRAIDES: Well, they pulled the ball screens a little bit better. They were trailing me kind of tight. But that's what you expect. So I'm looking to make another play, and I'm just soaring, so trying to get my teammates involved or whatever, draw and kick. I mean, they played me a lot tighter, so...
Q. Dan, did you feel for the most part that you made them take the sorts of shots that you wanted them to take in the scouting report?
DAN MAVRAIDES: Yeah, I mean, I think we had, like in any game, you're going to have a couple defensive breakdowns. But I think the final score, they scored 59 points. I know they average a lot, lot more than that. So I think overall we played pretty well defensively. We stuck to our scouting report and executed for the most part. A couple of their players stepped up and hit some big threes down the stretch, but I was pretty happy with our defensive effort.
Q. Coach, on the last play with two seconds to go, what was the call in the huddle? Just curious whether you insisted on trying to get a pass beyond half court because invariably in those situations if you don't get the ball beyond half court it's a real tough shot.
SYDNEY JOHNSON: Yeah, it seemed like they were thinking the way you were thinking, so they tried to make it hard for us to throw something long. I think the smartest thing to do is to keep everybody in front of you, and that's what they did.
Q. As a follow-up to that, the two previous huddles, the one before Dan's shot and the one before Brandon's shot, what were the plans in those situations?
SYDNEY JOHNSON: Xs and Os wise? Well, my message to the guys, we came off the court and our guys were down at the floor, and I just -- I didn't understand that. I love this team, and they've battled so much, and I didn't understand why they felt down. I mean, we've been down, but we've never played like we're a team that doesn't feel good about themselves and doesn't have a bit of swagger. So I was pretty animated about that.
Like we've come a long way, we're a terrific team, and we seemed to kind of smile in the face of adversity, and so I wanted them that way as opposed to, okay, we've got a battle. Forget that. We've battled so many times and been good at it. So that was the focus as much as anything.
Q. Just put in perspective the season but also playing a team like Kentucky so well and falling short when it looked like this was going to be your day for a while.
SYDNEY JOHNSON: You know, Kentucky has got a great tradition, and they have a fantastic coach and players, fan support.
Ours is no less. I hope I'm not offending anybody. We have a proud and rich tradition. And I really like this match-up. I really thought that it was a special one for the tournament. Princeton-Kentucky, from my vantage point, are two of the best basketball programs that we've seen in college basketball. So I was very excited, and I wanted to demand from our players that we live up to that, and I think we did. I think we did that.
Q. Coach Johnson, what did you say to your players in game to sort of calm them, allow them to get their composure, not be intimidated by the Kentucky franchise?
SYDNEY JOHNSON: You know, I didn't want them to be too calm, to be honest. There's a fine line between being calm and not ready to play, and you know, being overly confident. You've got to find that sweet spot because I wanted them to believe in themselves as much as I've believed in them.
So it was just, again, trying to find that sweet spot where we were ready to perform and that we were excited about these bright lights and all the hype that surrounds us, but we were focused on the task at hand and what we had to do. We've recruited guys to come to Princeton who want to play on this stage, and so why spoil it.
Q. Can you talk about the gesture of having the team over for a curtain call to the fans?
SYDNEY JOHNSON: Well, we're not -- I don't like losing, so it was hard to do that. But I just felt that we owed it to our fans. We didn't want to celebrate a loss in any way, shape or form. That's not what that was about. I just feel like there's a lot of love for our program, and our alumni and fans and families and everybody has come out to support us in droves, and you have to acknowledge that.
You know, 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, and when someone is giving you the support that our fans have given us, you've got to say thank you. You know, you can't take that for granted. That's all that moment was about.
Q. On the game winner, was there anything you would have wanted to see different there, or was that just a good shot by him?
SYDNEY JOHNSON: It was a tough, tough shot by a kid that we had bottled up pretty much the whole game. Good player, I'm sure Coach Cal is pretty pleased with how he was able to come back down the stretch. We felt like we had done an amazing job on him, and he just had one more play to make, which he did.