In his recap of Saturday’s Ivy action, Mike Tony described Princeton’s win against Saint Peter’s as “gritty,” thereby stealing the story line from Old Toothless. Both teams displayed toughness and resilience. The Tigers were fortunate to hang on at the end for a 75-72 victory in the contest played at Dillon Gym, which last hosted varsity basketball in January 1969.
Pete Miller controlled the opening tap, resulting in a Steve Cook layup four seconds into the game. The Tigers needed the remaining 39:56 to add the third point to the winning margin.
With the injured Hans Brase watching from the bleachers (he’s scheduled for surgery on Wednesday), the Tigers used a myriad of combinations among nine players, eight of whom played at least 12 minutes. Iron man Spencer Weisz was on the floor for a team-high 37 minutes.
If the Rider game belonged to Pete Miller and rookie Devin Cannady, this one was owned by Henry Caruso, the junior from San Mateo, Calif. Making the most of his chance to start in Brase’s slot, Caruso put his cut-and-slash style on full display, repeatedly fighting his way to the basket past taller opponents, usually resulting in three-point chances the old fashioned way. He had seven field goals from close in and went 9-for-12 from the free throw line. His 23 points led the Tigers. He added eight rebounds and an assist to his application for indispensability. At one stretch in the second half, when Caruso appeared to be holding the Peacocks at bay by himself, a frustrated Saint Peter’s coach John Dunne tried three different people against Henry in about two minutes.
After starting the season against two tough Metro Atlantic foes, Princeton coach Mitch Henderson is relieved that his club held on for two very good wins. Last season’s Patriot League tournament champion Lafayette is next up for the Tigers in Wednesday’s Jadwin opener.
The Tigers never surrendered the lead, although each time the Tigers threatened to establish separation, the visitors stormed back. An eight-point first-half lead was whittled down to three at the break, 34-31. Antwon Portley’s 13 first-half points kept his team very much alive. In the second period, Cameron Jones and Quadir Welton weighed in heavily. Jones’ 21 points was a game high for the Peacocks, followed by Portley with 20 and Welton with 14.
Princeton managed to get up by nine with 11 minutes remaining, but the Peacocks refused to go away. A huge Jones three at the 57-second mark pulled the Peacocks within two. Things got very tense for the Tigers when Dunne ordered a foul against Miller as soon as he touched the ball on the ensuing possession, exposing a glaring weakness that is sure to be capitalized upon by Tiger foes going forward. A notoriously poor free throw shooter, Miller finished his 1-for-6 night by missing both in the last minute, sending him to the bench. Forced to foul, the Peacocks sent the Tigers to the line 10 times in the final minute. When Princeton could make only six of these, the outcome remained in doubt until Saint Peter’s missed a desperation three at the buzzer.
Miller’s teammates suffered similar frustration from the charity stripe, as Princeton made only 20 of 38 attempts, something that won’t do going forward, especially in close games. Miller had another good floor game, however, grabbing eight rebounds, scoring nine points and adding two more blocked shots in 25 minutes. Steady Amir Bell had 12 points and a career-high nine rebounds. Sophomore Jackson Forbes, from Plano, Tex., thrilled the capacity crowd of 1,306 with three consecutive treys in two minutes in the first half.
After two games, this team has shown the ability to close out games against tough opponents. Henderson could not ask for more at this point. The Tigers are getting a lot of production from many different players, a very important quality for a team that plays its league games back-to-back.