The Tigers’ weekend sweep of Yale and Brown at Jadwin gave them control of their destiny in the hectic Ivy race and tied them with the Bulldogs in the all-important loss column.
The largest Jadwin crowd in the Mitch Henderson era, bolstered by a beer-soaked cadre of undergraduates and Garden State chief executive Chris Christie, Delaware ’84, was on hand for Friday’s matchup with Justin Sears and company. Yale controlled the backboards and the game in the early going, taking an 11-6 lead after six minutes. Two Sam Downey free throws gave the Bulldogs their largest lead of the game, 19-13, with nine minutes to go in the first period. The key statistic was Yale’s six offensive rebounds while shutting the Tigers out in that category. At the five-minute mark the margin remained six, 27-21.
Freshman sensation Devin Cannady then ignited a Tiger rally that may well define the Tigers’ season. Cannady was a perfect 4-for-4 from the field in the first stanza, including three long range bombs. In a 30-second stretch that began with the Tigers trailing, Cannady made two three-pointers to draw his team even at 27, then blocked a Makai Mason layup attempt, followed quickly by a Caruso dunk to give the Tigers a lead they would never lose.
The 18-2 run closing out the first half was perhaps Princeton’s finest sustained outpouring of the season, exceeding even Governor Christie’s three-hot dog effort in the first 20 minutes. The 10-point margin at the break was mostly maintained throughout the second period. The Bulldogs were never allowed to reduce the deficit under six the rest of the way. The final margin was a comfortable 12 points. Yale’s total of 63 was 15 points less than its average of 78-plus in the Ivy campaign and 16 under the 79-point barrage it threw at the Tigers in New Haven.
Red-hot at home against the Tigers, Yale was limited to 1-for-12 from beyond the arc. The Tigers’ harassing help defense held Sears to nine shots and 15 total points. Makai Mason’s 18 was high for the visitors, but the Tigers defended him very well, forcing six turnovers and allowing only three assists.
Devin Cannady’s 20 was high for Princeton and he was joined in double figures by Spencer Weisz, Caruso and Amir Bell. Weisz added seven rebounds and three assists, while committing just one turnover in 38 minutes.
When asked if the Tigers might suffer a letdown against Brown on Saturday night, Weisz stated flatly that the objective of the weekend was a sweep. “If we don’t get a sweep, beating Yale means nothing.”
The Tigers took care of business Saturday. Once again, four Tigers reached double figures, which has become something of a hallmark for this squad. Leading by as much as 25 in the second half, Henderson made liberal use of his bench. Brown closed to 77-66 at the final horn.
This Princeton team has established its identity. Oddly, for a team whose lowest point total in the Ivy League is 73, it is at the defensive end that this team has found its stride. Henderson has frequently deployed a “small” lineup, going to it earlier each night, depending on Henry Caruso, Steven Cook and freshman Myles Stephens to hold their own against the opponents’ usually bigger, but always slower, frontcourt. He can afford this strategy with a team that has as many scorers as this one. The result is a team playing with a lot of intensity, courage and confidence.
The 14-Game Tournament allows little time to enjoy what you have done. The next Big Game: this Friday, of course, is when the Columbia Lions get yet another chance to kick poor Peter Andrews in the stomach. Kyle Smith’s club rebounded nicely from the heartbreak of last week’s catastrophe to fashion a sweep of its own, and, as a result, Columbia remains very much alive in the Ivy race. No one is looking forward to this game more than Maodo Lo, who torched the Tigers for 37 points at Jadwin last season, setting an Ivy League record for threes in a game in the process. Expect fireworks – lots and lots of fireworks – as these two teams square off with the season once again on the line for both.