As the 2015 portion of the schedule winds down the pecking order in the Ivy League appears to be established along familiar lines. Ken Pomeroy ranks just one Ivy squad, Yale, in the Top 100 at No. 95. Harvard, on the strength of an excellent showing in Hawaii, has jumped to No. 109. The Tigers check in at No. 114, while Columbia remains in a holding pattern at No. 129, even while riding the crest of a five-game winning streak. The only surprise has been the rapid maturing of the Crimson, whose relative inexperience was not an issue in wins against BYU and Auburn and a near miss against No. 2 Oklahoma. Many knowledgeable observers now predict a likely continuation of Harvard’s unprecedented domination of the Ivy League.
The Tigers scheduled a post-Christmas trip to warm Miami for a Dec. 29 matchup with Jim Larranaga’s highly regarded and nationally ranked Hurricanes. A sense of urgency hung over the Tigers in view of Yale’s consistent ability to punch above its weight class and Harvard’s resurgence. The Tigers needed a superlative effort to remain in the Ivy conversation. While the Tigers have handled lesser foes rather easily, they have struggled mightily on the road against quality teams. In Coral Gables, they found themselves visiting a very high-quality quintet. The Tigers competed capably for much of the game against Big Ten co-favorite Maryland, but a 21-point loss is never cause for celebration. Another blowout loss at Miami might have severely eroded the Tigers’ confidence level going forward.
Princeton coach Mitch Henderson got the superlative effort he and his team needed. The game was marked by a series of runs, with Miami looking to dominate but the Tigers scratching and clawing their way back in. Miami got off to a good start, grabbing an 8-2 lead five minutes in, as the Tigers were frustrated by their inability to compete inside and unable to get good looks from three-point land. Enter freshman Devin Cannady and sophomore Alec Brennan. These two sparked a six-point Tiger run, tying the score at the 13:19 mark. Retaking the momentum, the Hurricanes went on their own run, 19-12, to lead once again by six, 27-21.
Again, the Tigers responded. And again, it was youngsters Cannady and Brennan who ignited the rally. First, Brennan hit a top-of-the-key jumper on a shot his defender was happy to give him. A moment later Steven Cook rifled a pass to Devin Cannady, who calmly drained a heart-stopping three-pointer, drawing the Tigers even at the 2:32 mark, prompting a Miami timeout. Flustered by the pesky Ivy upstarts, the Hurricanes failed to connect again in the first half. Amir Bell, on his way to an excellent all-around game, nailed a three at the buzzer, sending the Tigers to the locker room up 30-27. The Hurricanes trailed at the break for only the second time this season.
The key for Princeton was its stellar defense, which caused some sloppy ball-handling by the Hurricanes, from which the Tigers were able to make six steals. The Hurricanes, who usually scores in the eighties, realized their hands were full on this night.
As the second period got underway, the Tigers gave every indication that they were not going away, surely not quietly. The Tigers’ lead grew to six in two and a half minutes, but the Hurricanes, showing some determination of their own, hung around to force a tie at 39. The Tigers answered with another run, sparked this time by their leading scorer all year, Henry Caruso, who canned casino online a tough layup in traffic with an “and one” to boot. Cannady and Bell each scored to give the Tigers another 6 point lead, 47-41. A horrible Cannady turnover resulting in a Davon Reed layup caused a quick Henderson time out. Coming out of the break the Tigers launched their final run, extending the lead to 52-45 with 10:44 to go. The Tigers still held a lead, 58-57, at the 6:36 mark.
As the saying goes, you can’t keep a good man down. Miami returned to form in the second half, demonstrating clearly its claim to be one of the best shooting teams at the top of Division I. Exerting their length and strength inside, the Hurricanes dominated the final 10 minutes. Needing the ball at the end, the Tigers fouled often, but Miami canned its free throws to skew the final score, a closer-than-it-looked 76-64. The Tigers yielded 49 second-half points, but so do most of the Hurricanes’ foes.
For the first time, Henderson played Weisz, Caruso, Bell and Cook for at least 30 minutes. Weisz and Caruso were on the floor for 37. Pete Miller had his hands full against the taller and stronger Hurricane front line. He managed just one field goal in eight attempts over 20 minutes. Bell led the Tigers with 17, including a dazzling 3-for-5 from downtown. Caruso, Weisz and Cannady were all in double figures, a clear indication of the offense running smoothly and efficiently. Miami’s 18-for-29 from the field and 10-for-12 from the free throw line were just too much.
The Tigers return to New Jersey secure in the knowledge they can compete effectively with every team on its remaining schedule. Two games in Virginia, at Hampton and Norfolk State, round out the out-of-conference schedule. The 14-Game Tourney, perhaps the last one, gets underway on Jan. 9 against Penn”s Quakers in Philadelphia. Good luck and Happy New Year, AQ …