ITHACA – The Tigers completed another sweep on the road, running their Ivy road record to 7-0 and league record to 12-0 overall. The current winning streak stands at 15, with two more contests remaining: Harvard and Dartmouth at Jadwin Gym this weekend.
The games this weekend, at Columbia and Cornell, played out in similar fashion. The Lions and the Big Red stayed with the Tigers through the first half of play. Cornell held the lead at Newman Arena until a late three-pointer by Amir Bell sent the Tigers to the locker room, up 35-34. As things go in this magical season for Princeton, it was Bell’s first attempt from the field. Cornell’s 34 first-half points stand as the most yielded by the Tiger defense in more than a month. The quick strikes of Robert Hatter and Matt Morgan accounted for the bulk of the Big Red total, while Josh Warren contributed seven points in a three-minute stretch midway through the opening period. The Tigers were undoubtedly dealing with the effects of the long bus ride from Manhattan in the early morning hours, perhaps the most uncomfortable trip for any visitor to Newman Arena on the back-to-back weekends.
Sophomore guard Devin Cannady’s hot shooting, most evident two weeks ago at Yale, continued at Columbia and in the first half at Newman. He posted 11 points, including three three-pointers, to lead the way for Princeton. Sophomore guard Myles Stephens just keeps getting better. He went 3-for-6 from the field, grabbed two rebounds, blocked a shot and had two steals in 15 minutes.
The Big Red started the second half with the intensity you would expect from a Brian Earl club, especially on Senior Night in Ithaca. For the first 10 minutes, the teams stayed within a basket or two of each other. A Matt Morgan three-pointer at the nine-minute mark got the Big Red within one, 51-50. The trademark Tiger defense went into high gear at that point and Cornell would get no closer. Ninety seconds later, senior guard Spencer Weisz made a steal in the open court. He headed for what appeared to be a transition layup but drew a couple of Cornell defenders, causing Weisz to make an off-balance attempt. He missed. Cannady, the shortest player in the scrum, made a beautiful follow-up tip-in to give the Tigers a 58-50 lead.
Amir Bell made a steal with seven minutes left, leading to a thunderous Stephens dunk, as the Tigers asserted their control, turning excellent defense into transition scores. A minute or so later Stephens leaped over two Cornell defenders to tip in a rare Cannady miss. This play produced audible gasps in the crowd, as Stephens showed tremendous strength and coordination on a level rarely displayed in Ivy League basketball.
The final score was 75-60. The Tiger defense returned to the norm in the second half, holding the Big Red to 26 points. The offense poured in 40, helped by Cannady’s 26, including 6-for-10 from beyond the arc. Stephens (17) and Steven Cook (14) joined Cannady in double figures. Weisz showed once again how valuable he is to this team. He played 39 minutes, leaving the affair only when Princeton coach Mitch Henderson cleared his bench in the final minute. Weisz missed his first nine shots! But he posted seven assists, four steals and three rebounds and often defended Cornell sophomore center Stone Gettings, holding him to seven points and three caroms. So Weisz nevertheless offered a textbook definition of leadership on the floor.
The Tigers’ success has been built on a sturdy foundation of defense. It is no coincidence that the defense began to hit its stride against an excellent Bucknell team in Lewisburg in December when Myles Stephens stepped into the starting lineup following the season-ending injury to the All-Ivy senior, Henry Caruso. In 12 games in Ivy play, Princeton has given up about 58 points per game, under a point per possession for the opponent. The Tigers’ patience with the ball and reluctance to commit turnovers are a lethal combination. The result: Princeton sits atop the Ivy standings at 12-0, poised to claim at least a share of the Ivy title, its 27th.
The final weekend for Princeton includes a rematch at Jadwin with the red-hot Harvard Crimson. Harvard has aspirations of its own to share the Ivy crown and to get revenge for the final second putback by Cook which gave the Tigers a rare win in Boston, 57-56, in a game the Crimson controlled for the final five minutes. And, of course, these two teams could very well meet again a week later at the Palestra to decide the Ivy representative in the NCAA Tournament. Neither wants to lose to the other heading into the Ivy League Tournament.
The final weekend will also determine the fourth seed in the Ivy tourney, as Penn and Columbia remain tied in the standings. Penn, playing at home, may have a slight edge, although the Quakers finish against Harvard. Columbia goes on the road at Brown and Yale. Stay tuned, Ivy fans.