ST. LOUIS - A season that saw the Princeton men's basketball team make a big step forward came to an end Wednesday night in a 69 -59 loss at Saint Louis University in the College Basketball Invitational semifinals.
Princeton finishes its season at 22-9 with its most wins since 1999, its first back-to-back finishes of at least second place in the Ivy since 2002, and its first postseason appearance since 2004.
Saint Louis (23-11) moves on to face Virginia Commonwealth in the CBI finals beginning Monday.
The Tigers led by as much as five early in the first half, but the Billkens came back on the strength of its two leading scorers, Kwamain Mitchell and Willie Reed. Mitchell led Saint Louis with 21 points, complementing a strong inside presence from the 6-foot-9 Reed, who finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds. The Tigers had trouble keeping an eye on both.
Video: Sydney Johnson, Marcus Schroeder, Nick Lake, Zach Finley and Pawel Buczak in the postgame interview.
"We tried to stop (Mitchell) as many ways as we could and it seemed like he found ways to score," senior co-captain Marcus Schroeder said. "Or if he wasn't scoring, he was dishing it off to someone and they were knocking down a three."
Princeton's two centers, Pawel Buczak and Zach Finley, had two fouls apiece before 12 minutes were gone in the first half, hurting the Tigers' ability to control the lengthy Reed.
"You see him on tape and you're like, 'Wow, I don't think we have answers,'" said Sydney Johnson, the Franklin C. Cappon-Edward G. Green '40 head coach, said of Reed. "And we didn't. When he's catching and raising up, he's a pretty special talent. That one-two punch (of Mitchell and Reed) hurt us."
After a three-pointer by Dan Mavraides that cut the Billikens' lead to one at 29-28 with five minutes to go before the break, Saint Louis ended the half on a 9-1 run.
The Billikens scored the first eight points of the second half to take a 46-29 lead with 17 minutes to play and the Tigers never recovered. A 7-0 run by Princeton made it a six-point game at 55-49 with less than five minutes to go, but the Tigers came no closer.
Small advantages in several statistical areas added up for Saint Louis, which outrebounded Princeton by three, had two fewer turnovers, made four more field goals and hit four more free throws.
The defeat saw the end of the collegiate careers for Princeton's four seniors, Schroeder, co-captain Nick Lake, Zach Finley and Pawel Buczak. Their four years spanned a coaching change, a 23-loss season and not only the return to a winning record, but achieving the 20-victory benchmark.
"It's tough losing your last game, but I think we're all proud of what we've done here," Schroeder said. "There were definitely some tough times. Freshman and sophomore year and even some of last year was very difficult for us. To have a season like this with 22 wins was pretty remarkable."
Princeton will miss the contributions of a steady point guard like Schroeder, who finished the season with an assist-turnover ratio of exactly two to one, the leadership of Lake and the inside presence brought by Finley and Buczak.
But the future is bright for a Tiger team that will return 48 of the 59 points scored against Princeton's fourth Atlantic 10 opponent of the season, with Kareem Maddox (16 points) and Douglas Davis (14 points) leading the way on the final night of the 2010 campaign.