Although the Tigers went 1-2 in the Wooden Legacy tournament, Mitch Henderson believes his young team made progress on the West Coast trip.
“[Freshman point guard] Amir Bell is settling into the position, showing a better understanding of what we expect from him and getting more comfortable in each game,” Henderson said.
Bell’s work in the tournament earned him Ivy Rookie of the Week recognition in Big Apple Buckets’ Ivy weekly roundup. The rapidly maturing freshman, cast as “the heir apparent to T. J. Bray,” averaged 11 points per game in Anaheim and, impressively, committed only one turnover in the three games. Henderson said that he was pleased with how freshman center Alec Brennan responded while getting significant minutes in the Golden State. Sophomore Henry Caruso from San Mateo, Cal., came off the bench in each game to spark several Tiger rallies. His 15 points in 20 minutes against UTEP in the opener on Thanksgiving afternoon led all Tigers.
Princeton found itself in a hole early against the Miners but played hard throughout, cutting the lead to three 23-20 at the half. The Tigers were still trailing by just three, 51-48, with two minutes remaining. UTEP dominated from that point extending the lead to nine. A three at the buzzer by Caruso made the final score 62-56. All in all, a good effort by Princeton on a night when Spencer Weisz was held to a season-low four points by the physical UTEP defense.
The sluggish Tigers were thoroughly outplayed by the San Diego Toreros the next afternoon. Sharp-shooter Johnny Dee exploded for 29 points, leading the Toreros to a 75-65 victory. A 13-0 run gave San Diego an early lead it would never relinquish. Weisz returned to form with 18 points. Perhaps feeling the effects of the cross country travel and back-to-back games the Tigers committed 17 second-half fouls.
The day off before Sunday’s finale against San Jose State proved to be a tonic for the Tigers’ troubles. Running the offense perfectly and shooting with deadly accuracy, Princeton jumped out to leads of 10-0 and 14-2. The Spartans fought back, closing to 20-19, but the Tigers went on their second 10-0 run to finish the first half leading 30-19. Princeton dominated the second stanza as well, leading by as many as 20. The final score was a convincing 69-54, snapping the Tigers’ losing streak at five.
Weisz again led the Tiger scorers with 16, reaching double figures for the sixth time in seven games. Henderson was most pleased by the Tigers’ total of 20 assists, a sure sign of offensive efficiency which helped the shooters register 56 percent from the field. Bell was on the floor for 32 minutes while limiting his personal fouls to an acceptable two. Caruso impressed the staff in another 20 minutes off the bench. He may have emerged as the go-to reserve.
Senior guard Ben Hazel, a starter in the first four games, played less than a minute in the opener and not at all in the last two. He may be the odd man out in Henderson’s plans going forward, especially if Denton Koon returns to action later this month.
The Tigers will not return to Jadwin until Saturday’s outing against Stony Brook. A midweek contest at Fairleigh Dickinson continues the road trip, although this game is in New Jersey. The West Coast part of the trip has brightened Henderson’s spirits somewhat since his team appears to be moving in the right direction. At least there are no more Texas teams on the schedule.