PRINCETON, N.J. – In one of the maddest Marches in NCAA Tournament history, Princeton stands out as the lone double-digit seed still standing.
The Tigers proved their shocking win over Arizona was no fluke, downing Missouri for the school’s first trip to the Sweet 16 in 56 years.
A couple Chicagoland kids have come through in the clutch throughout Princeton’s run.
Caden Pierce, who helped lead Glenbard West to a 2022 IHSA championship, started all but one game for the Tigers. The freshman forward grabbed 16 rebounds against Mizzou and hammered home a dagger dunk that sent the Sacramento crowd into a frenzy, some 3,000 miles away from campus.
“It’s unbelievable really. Just the support that the fans give us. I think the arena held about 15,000 people and it felt like 14,000 were on our side,” explained Pierce. “Every time a shot goes up, you can just hear that roar of the crowd. Even if it doesn’t go in, you can kind of just hear the ‘oooooohhhhh.'”
“It’s incredible because in the Ivy League we’re playing in front of three-four thousand people on a given night,” noted sophomore guard and Evanston High School grad Blake Peters. “But, March Madness is in front of 15,000 people in the arena and millions at home watching.”
Peters shined on the big stage, hitting five second half threes off the bench to carry the 15-seed Tigers across the finish line.
“I think for most of the guys on the team, we’ve been underdogs our whole life. Yes, we go to Princeton. It’s a great institution. God willing, we’re all going to do great in life. But, at the same time, athletically, Cade – one of the best freshman in the country – I’d argue, he was very underrecruited. Myself, I’d argue the same thing. People being too slow, too short – each of us kind of has our own little story, our own little niche to it.”
With the Illini bowing out early again and Northwestern only making it to round two, Pierce and Peters are giving Chicagoans someone to cheer for.
“Every single guy on the team plays basketball for the same reason because at the end of the day, we love playing basketball,” Pierce remarked. “You’ve got to celebrate those moments when you hit a shot or get a rebound or get a nice defensive stop.”
“It’s a surreal feeling after games when we check our phones and friends from elementary school, middle school, family you talk to and family you don’t talk to as much are all reaching out to you and sharing in your joy,” Peters added. “It’s March. It’s magic. Everyone wants to root for that underdog.”
Their next chance to advance is Friday night, when they face the Creighton Blue Jays in Louisville.