Princeton clinches Ivy League title
Updated: Wednesday March 07, 2001 12:05 AM
PRINCETON, N.J. (AP) -- Nate Walton sat between teammates Mike Bechtold and Ahmed El-Nokali with a net draped around his neck.
"This really is a dream come true," Walton said.
The Tigers captain had nine points, eight rebounds, seven assists and six steals as Princeton beat Penn 68-52 Tuesday night to win the Ivy League title and secure its first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 1998.
"I remember all summer long talking about it with my brother (Luke, who plays for Arizona), saying 'See you in the Final Four. See you in the Elite Eight,'" Walton said.
The fifth-year senior looked like a man who would not be denied against Penn. It was reminiscent of the way his father, Bill, played at UCLA nearly 30 years ago.
"When (four Ivy teams) were all 6-3, I just told myself that this is my championship. I'm not going to let anyone else take it from me," Walton said.
The victory gave Princeton (16-10, 11-3) its 23rd Ivy title and first under coach John Thompson III, who took over Sept. 7 after Bill Carmody left for Northwestern.
Penn (12-17, 9-5) was seeking a share of its third consecutive Ivy crown and hoping to force a one-game playoff for an NCAA berth.
"It's obviously very disappointing," Penn center Geoff Owens said. "We never came together like I had hoped. We showed signs, but never played team basketball like we could. It never crossed my mind it would end this soon."
Thompson guided the Tigers through an injury-plagued season that began after All-Ivy center Chris Young left to pursue a baseball career with the Pittsburgh Pirates and second-leading scorer Spencer Gloger transferred to UCLA.
"This means a lot," Thompson said. "Not necessarily because it's my first season. I tried not to talk about it all year, but this is Princeton basketball. A lot of people didn't expect us to be here, but these guys will tell you I'm not a patient guy and it means a lot to see Nate sitting there right now with a net around his neck."
Ahmed El-Nokali led Princeton with 14 points, Kyle Wente had 12 and Andrew Logan 10. Dave Klatsky had 15 for Penn, which shot 40 percent with 19 turnovers, and Ugonna Onyekew had 14.
After Penn cut a five-point halftime deficit to 35-34, Princeton went on a 24-6 run to take control. Princeton shot 8-for-12 during the stretch.
"We wanted to do a better job defensively in the second half because they were getting open looks," said Thompson, whose father, John, took Georgetown to 20 NCAA tournaments. "We did a much better job of that after halftime."
El-Nokali and Logan each had seven points during the run. Penn shot 1-for-9 with six turnovers during the same stretch.
"They made some long shots and they made some backdoor layups that hurt us, too," Penn coach Fran Dunphy said. "We had to be a little more patient and poised on the offensive end. I thought we rushed some shots. You feel like you have to put your finger in the dike and that's where the impatience gets created."
This is the 13th season in a row and 31st in 33 years that Princeton or Penn won or shared the Ivy title.