Princeton claws past Hampton, 77-49

PRINCETON – The Tigers eagerly awaited the arrival at Jadwin Gym of the KenPom No. 328 Hampton Pirates, especially after handling Bucknell in Lewisburg last week. The Bison are ranked more than 200 spots higher than the Pirates, who were expected to walk the plank in Princeton’s arena Wednesday.

As the first half unfolded, it became quite clear that the visitors were not intimidated by the quirkiness of Jadwin or by the Tigers’ team. Princeton managed an early lead that hovered at five through most of the first half, although the Tigers did push it to 10 briefly. The Pirates’ quick guards pressured the Tiger defenders into committing a lot of fouls, sending the visitors to the charity stripe 17 times for 15 conversions to the Tigers’ five.

The pesky Pirates drew even at 33 with seconds to go after an impressive run, appearing to grab the momentum away from the home team. A huge tip-in by Alec Brennan at the buzzer restored order and brought the holiday crowd to its feet for the first time. The Tigers had the lead at the half, but barely, 35-33.

The second half played out as one might have expected in this apparent mismatch. The Tigers responded to Hampton’s in-your-face challenge with one of its finest defensive halves in recent years. Princeton canned 14 three-pointers while limiting the Pirates to just four. Hampton scored only 16 points in the second half, less than half of its output in the opening stanza. The Tigers outscored Hampton by 26 in the second period.

The Tigers assisted on 17 of their 28 field goals, always a telling stat in the Mitch Henderson scheme. Princeton grabbed an impressive 10 steals, led as usual by senior guard Spencer Weisz’s career-high five. While it’s tempting to call the second half the latest installment of the Spencer Weisz Show, it must be noted that four Tigers reached double figures: Weisz (17), Steven Cook (13), Myles Stephens (12), Devin Cannady (10). Weisz turned in a characteristic all-around performance, also posting seven rebounds and pitched in three assists. His five treys tied a career mark.

The free throw disparity disappeared in the second half as each team canned 15 for the game. The Tigers did what they must at home, hitting 45 percent beyond the arc, especially considering they are likely to be outrebounded on most nights, as they were against the Pirates.

Junior forward Alec Brennan deserves mention for his productive evening: nine points, three rebounds and one steal in 14 minutes. He can give the Tigers a boost where they need it most – in the frontcourt – after losing Hans Brase and Henry Caruso for the season. Brennan came in two years ago amid much fanfare after a stellar career in secondary school. Early on, he had difficulty adapting to the pace of the college game, where unlike prep school, many players can match his size and strength. Pressed into action lately, one senses his confidence level is rising and he appears to be enjoying himself on the court again.

Once again, Henderson employed 11 players, raising the expectations bar deep into the roster. This tactic may pay big dividends on those back-to-back Ivy weekends.

The Tigers’ final preseason tune-up begins at 1 p.m. New Year’s Eve when the Cal Poly Mustangs gallop into Jadwin. The Ivy League season tips off one week later with a women’s and men’s doubleheader at Jadwin against Penn.

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