Saturday is homecoming in Princeton, New Jersey: a frenzied, booze-fueled bacchanalia in honor of alumni returning to campus to watch the football team lose to Yale. But new head coach (and Princeton class of ‘98) Mitch Henderson will be celebrating a very different sort of homecoming on Saturday afternoon as Princeton basketball opens its 2011-2012 season at home against Wagner.
Wagner doesn’t present quite the opportunity for an early statement game as last year’s overtime thriller against cross-town nemesis Rutgers. Princeton has won its last four contests against Northeast Conference foes, including beating Wagner the last two times the teams have tangoed. But Princeton is taking on a Seahawks squad on the rise – Wagner climbed up from the dregs of the NEC last year to finish a respectable 9-9 in conference play, and the team returns three of its leading scorers.
The Tigers look to extend their 16-game home winning streak at Jadwin Gymnasium against a Wagner team that plays a very different kind of game. The Seahawks are a team built around small, speedy guards and three-point shooting, a combination that could challenge the Tigers’ perimeter defense. Leading the charge for Wagner is senior guard Tyler Murray, an offensive force and the best player on the team last year. Murray scored a team-high 17 points a game, shot 41.5% from beyond the arc, and generally filled the box scores – the Canadian native led the team in steals and was second in rebounds and assists. Joining him on the perimeter are 5″11″ guard Chris Martin, another member of the over-forty-percent-from-downtown club, and sophomore Latif Rivers, whose freshman campaign was marked by a shoot-from-the-hip attitude that saw nbso online casino reviews him take a staggering 329 shots, second most on the team by a long shot, for a paltry .362 percentage.
One of Princeton’s strengths, meanwhile, is the team’s height – nine players crack 6-7. So while the Tigers certainly have the option of parking Hummer in the corner and trying to go shot-for-shot with the Seahawks, expect Princeton to try and use its size advantage. Henderson has been pushing center Brendan Connolly as a candidate to replace some of Kareem Maddox’s lost offense, and the early part of the non-conference season, especially against shorter opponents like Wagner who will have a harder time helping against the 6-11 Connolly, will be a test of whether or not that hype is justified.
The Tigers look to start Connolly in the middle, flanked by Ian Hummer and 6-10 junior Will Barrett, a bench player who started two games last year and looks to take on a bigger role this season. In the backcourt, 1000-point scorer and the hero of last year, Doug Davis, takes up residency at his normal off-guard spot, and it seems like sophomore T.J. Bray will have the first crack at ball handling duties, a task that Henderson said would be handled “by committee” during the long, hard tryout that is nonconference play. If Barrett starts, expect forward Pat Saunders, co-captain and a starter last year, to be one of the first men off the bench. Elsewhere on the pine, freshman forward Denton Koon, the pride and joy of Liberty, MO, has a shot to break into the rotation as a shot of front-court energy off the bench.
Wagner gets off to a quick start with a few trey-balls, building an early lead and scaring the Jadwin faithful into believing for a few minutes that something irrecoverable left with Messrs. Maddox, Mavraides,
and Johnson. But Mitch Henderson collects his team and Princeton uses its length to bother the Seahawks’ outside shooters, helping when Tyler Murray tries to dribble penetrate, and jumping into passing lanes when he tries to kick the ball back out. In the second half, Princeton bangs the block and Connolly scores in bunches, pulling away from Wagner and sending their opponents up the long, lonesome Jersey Turnpike, all the way back to Staten Island.