Princeton’s visit to the beautifully renovated Kirby Sports Center on the tree-studded campus of Lafayette University last night was marred by the frosty reception awaiting the Tigers. The players stepped off the bus into a cold, blustery night far more typical of a Pennsylvania January than mid-November. The arena was warmer, but no more hospitable for the young and still struggling Tigers.
For the first time this season, Mitch Henderson’s offense ran smoothly and efficiently from the outset through the initial 20-minute period. Princeton’s 44 points was easily its highest output for any half so far, more than doubling its 19-point total in the first stanza at George Mason two days earlier. The Tigers posted a fantastic 60 percent shooting mark (14-for-23) including a deadly 70 percent (9-for-13) from behind the arc.
Unfortunately, by rule, possession of the ball goes to the opponent after Tiger scores. Showing disdain for the Tigers’ defensive history, the Leopards veteran team outshot the Tigers (68 percent, 71 percent from three), canning a stunning 47 first-half points. Quite easy to understand why Fran O’Hanlon is so bullish on his chances for a postseason run this year.
Tiger fans, grateful to be within reach at the intermission, took some solace in the unlikelihood that the Leopards could keep it up for the whole game. The Tiger fans were right: Lafayette “cooled off” with only 36 in the second period. Not to worry, Fran. Princeton could manage only 22. The only issue in the last 10 minutes was the eventual margin. It was 17 as the Leopards came away with an impressive 83-66 win. Of Lafayette’s total of 83 points, the starting five accounted for 82, as all of them reached double figures. This is a solid team, indeed.
For the Tigers, while the defensive results were less than ideal, the effort was not. The Leopards had one of those nights a senior-dominated team expects to have a few times, especially at home. The Quakers better be prepared for a tough night Saturday when the Leopards visit The Palestra.
Hans Brase and Spencer Weisz continued their excellent early form, combining for 36 points and 13 rebounds in the loss. Each set career-highs: Brase with five three-pointers, Weisz with 19 points.
Sophomore center Peter Miller has clearly progressed in each outing, perhaps the most hopeful sign for Henderson in a double-digit beating. Miller had 14 points and 2 blocks, appearing more confident and comfortable on the floor. His offseason work on free-throw shooting (he shot 29 percent last year) under the watchful eye of Pete Carril is beginning to pay off. Using a much smoother stroke, he no longer looks like a guy trying to pitch a tent in a high wind.
Freshman point guard Amir Bell fouled out again, this time in 18 minutes. He’s not yet ready to run the show, but he must step up. With the Ivy opener still two months away, he has time to get where he needs to be.
The Tigers remain, to use a tired cliché, a work in progress. One hopes the “progress” part is more than a mirage. Perhaps three games on the West Coast over Thanksgiving, after a home matinee Saturday with Incarnate Word, will stabilize the rotation. Getting Denton Koon back will help, too, but seeing him hobble around on crutches last night suggests his return is many weeks away.