St. Joseph bests guest Princeton as Tigers lean heavily on their “big three”

PHILADELPHIA – The Tigers invaded the decidedly unfriendly confines of Hagan Arena on the otherwise welcoming campus of St. Joseph’s University on Saturday evening. Mitch Henderson continues his search for an effective rotation, realizing that his freshmen will need to undergo an ordeal by fire early in this new season.

He chose  a veteran-laden starting lineup in Philadelphia, going with seniors Amir Bell, Alec Brennan and Mike LeBlanc, along with juniors Devin Cannady and Myles Stephens. Will Gladson, the 6’10” sophomore, missed his third game due to injury.

The Tigers hit the floor last night anxious to restore the defensive pressure upon which last year’s squad built its reputation. Over the first 10 minutes, Princeton effectively shut down the Hawks, taking a 13-7 lead after a quarter of the game. The six-point lead would be the Tigers’ largest margin and one knew it would not be enough.

The first half concluded with the Tigers trailing 32-31 but very much in the game. Cannady (17) and Bell (nine) did the heavy lifting at the offensive end, going 8-for-11 from the field, including 6-for-8 from beyond the arc. The Tigers remained hopeful, although Myles Stephens had been held in check for the entire first half. Tiger fans expected him to break out in the second stanza.

Momentum slowly but perceptibly shifted to the home team after the intermission. Henderson, who had used as many as 12 players in the season’s first two contests, reduced the rotation last night to seven. Diminutive senior Aaron Young played 23 minutes, a career high. Hawks coach Phil Martelli exploited the height advantage over Young, who frequently found himself matched up against players a foot taller.

St. Joseph’s big men Taylor Funk and Anthony Longpre dominated the Tigers, consistently demonstrating  shot making ability inside and outside, using their length to maximum advantage. They combined for 33 points on 11-for-15 shooting from the field. Funk canned five of six three-pointers, a demoralizing factor for the Tigers.

Myles Stephens put all elements of his glorious game on full display in the second half, scoring 13 points and snaring several huge rebounds in heavy traffic. His jumper brought the Tigers within three, 53-50, with 9:15 left.

The roof caved in at that point, as the Tigers went nearly seven minutes unable to mount any effective offense. The Hawks went on a 17-5 run putting the game out of reach. Cannady, whose 22 were high for the Tigers for the evening, failed to score in the final 15 minutes. The scoring drought exposed the lack of any serious options other than The Big Three. Bell, Stephens and Cannady scored 50 of the Tigers’ 58. The other four players in the rotation, all of whom played more than 15 minutes, went 3-for-19 from the field. Rookie Sebastian Much played six minutes but was overmatched at the defensive end, committing four personal fouls. The defense could not create many turnovers, and Bell was the only Tiger to get to the line in Princeton’s 71-58 defeat.

Princeton’s 0-3 start was predictable, if nevertheless unexpected. It is small consolation that the Tigers have played three good to very good teams, at times more than holding their own. On fresh legs the defensive intensity was very much in evidence. Gladson’s return, the timing of which is unknown, will give the beleaguered front court some much needed relief. Ryan Schwieger continues to adjust to the pace of the college game, getting himself into position for some favorable shooting opportunities. Once he figures out how to maximize those opportunities he will add a dimension to the offense. The Big Three showed no ill effects from playing 35-plus minutes three times in six days, but it is hard to believe that they can continue that pace indefinitely.

Next up for Princeton is the Thanksgiving eve renewal of one of the Tigers’ longest running rivalries. Fran O’Hanlon brings his Lafayette Leopards to Jadwin, where his last visit resulted in a 104-52 Tiger victory. Both teams will be searching for a path out of the early-season doldrums.  Look for the Tigers to get off the schneid in a convincing manner.

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