Penn lost more than Princeton won, but the Tigers will take it

Henry Caruso notched a career-high 23 points to lead the Tigers past Penn. (goprincetontigers.com)
Henry Caruso notched a career-high 23 points to lead the Tigers past Penn. (goprincetontigers.com)

Last night’s renewal of the storied rivalry between the Tigers and Quakers was, in some respects, typical of the more memorable contests in a series which contains more than 200 editions. We saw an intense physical battle in which most every shot was bitterly contested and we saw one team overcome a huge second-half deficit to achieve an improbable win. But this game was lost by Penn, not won by the Tigers.

To the chagrin of the partisans of both squads this game established beyond much, if any, lingering doubt that neither belongs among the league’s elite quintets. I am sure that Mitch Henderson and his staff enjoyed the come-from-behind win over the Quakers for only a little while before the sobering reality of the game hit home. The Tigers struggled at home to beat a team whose lone “quality” win came at the expense of Navy. The Quakers managed to squander a late 15-point lead by some of the sloppiest play since Dartmouth threw away a seven-point lead in the last two minutes of regulation at Harvard last year resulting in an overtime loss.

Princeton scored 14 points from turnovers in the second half and outscored the Quakers from the free throw line by an astounding 23 points!

To Penn’s credit, the Tigers accrued no advantage from behind the arc in this one. Clay Wilson was guarded so well that he was unable even to attempt a three-pointer. Steven Cook went down early for the second straight game due to what was described on Tuesday as “flu-like symptoms.” His absence forced Henderson to play Henry Caruso for much of the game. He turned to senior Ben Hazel, who hadn’t played since before Thanksgiving, for some help when things looked bleak for the Tigers in the second half. Hazel responded with a huge three during the Tigers’ comeback and pitched in with a team-high three steals. We should see a little more of the veteran now that the shakedown cruise for the kids is over.

Caruso’s presence was pivotal. The Quakers’ lead rendered the “Princeton offense” irrelevant in the second half. Caruso time and again took the ball to the Penn basket, more often than not resulting in a collision with one or more of the Penn big men and, more importantly, two foul shots. The California sophomore made 14 of 16 in his 23-point career-high scoring total. For good measure he added six rebounds in 28 minutes.

Far be it from me to comment on Jerome Allen’s game management skills. I am just relieved that the ball was in the point guard’s hands in the last 10 minutes and not in Darien Nelson-Henry’s. In previous games the Tigers have had a difficult time defending the Quakers’ big post man. We have not figured it out yet.

To Princeton’s credit, the youngsters came out of their first Ivy game with a stunning comeback effort resulting in a win. The Tigers’ next Ivy contest is three weeks away, a home game against Harvard. In all likelihood it will be a tougher exam than the first semester finals that week. Study hard, kids!!!!!

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