LAWRENCEVILLE, N.J. – Princeton faced off against the tough Rider Broncs Friday night without senior captain Hans Brase, who is expected to anchor the Tigers at both ends of the court. A troublesome knee flared up earlier in the week, sending Brase to the bench on crutches for the season opener. He is expected to return at full strength, but it may be weeks before he can get on the court.
Forced to assume a much greater role, 6’10” junior Pete Miller played perhaps his best game as a Tiger, leading both teams with a career high 12 rebounds. His nine points left him one short of his first double-double. For good measure he added three assists and two blocked shots, leading the Tigers to a surprising 64-56 road win.
Coach Mitch Henderson has placed a great emphasis on team defense in the offseason, and it showed immediately. Princeton’s stifling man-to-man frustrated the Broncs, denying them any opportunity to establish offensive rhythm. After missing nine of their first 10 shots, some hot shooting by junior Spencer Weisz helped the Tigers grab an early 16-point lead. Although the lead dwindled to eight at the half the Tigers left the floor in control of the game.
Brase’s absence enabled the Tigers to spread the minutes among nine players, all of whom will return for at least another campaign in the orange and black.
Coach Kevin Baggett made some excellent adjustments at the half, which bore fruit in the form of a 15-4 run to open the second stanza, giving the Broncs a 37-34 lead. The Tigers’ experience and maturity emerged again, however, as the defensive magic from the first half returned. In a 10-minute stretch the Broncs were held to two points, while the Tigers scored 16 to take control. The Broncs got no closer than five the rest of the way.
Junior Spencer Weisz turned in what is regarded by now as a typical performance as a coach on the floor. He had 13 points, eight assists and six defensive rebounds, helping the Tigers limit Rider to many “one and done” trips.
Pete Miller appears entirely comfortable and under control in the paint at both ends. He gives the Tigers a surprisingly physical dimension that will only get stronger when Brase returns. Steven Cook had a workmanlike night, although he had two spectacular blocks to stifle any comeback aspirations the Broncs harbored. Amir Bell played 36 steady minutes at the point, while Henry Caruso contributed nine crucial points in 26 minutes.
Perhaps the best news made in the season opener was the debut of Devin Cannady in a Tiger uniform. The heralded 6’1” Indiana native lived up to the hype in spectacular fashion, leading the Tigers with 17 points , including three threes, and 6-for-6 from the free throw line, by all accounts the best rookie debut since Doug Davis in 2008. Davis graduated as the second leading scorer in Tiger history. Showing a lot of confidence, Cannady followed up one silly turnover with an immediate three on the next possession. This kid bears watching.
Next up for the Tigers is a Dillon Gymnasium visit from St. Peter’s, which beat Brown last night, 77-65.