On Nov. 26, the Tigers raced to a 49-22 halftime lead over FDU, only to stumble across the finish line, holding on for an 83-76 win.
On Nov. 28, the Athletic Department conducted its annual 24-hour fund drive to raise money for the University athletic community (Tiger Athletics Give Day). The effort generated a record $2.45 million, of which about $150,000 was earmarked for basketball.
On Nov. 29, the Tigers entertained Lehigh in the renewal of a Patriot League rivalry against the other college team coached by Pete Carril.
Shockingly, the Mountain Hawks shredded the Tiger defense in the first half, shooting 60 percent from the field, on the way to an 18-point lead with five seconds remaining. Amir Bell stepped to the free-throw line with a 1-and-1, a chance to cut the lead to a perhaps more manageable 17. The Tigers deployed all four of their players to the Lehigh end to make certain that no further damage occurred before the break. Bell missed, James Karnik grabbed the rebound and headed upcourt where the four Tigers awaited. As he crossed midcourt, Karnik dished off to sharpshooter Kahron Ross, who deftly stopped just outside the arc to launch an uncontested three which dropped neatly through the net as time ran out. What could have been a 17-point deficit was now an embarrassing 22. The significance of this sequence would become horribly clear later. One prominent alumni donor was heard to say, “I wonder if I can get my $5,000 back?” I am not certain he was joking.
No one at courtside could recall when a Tiger team surrendered 49 points at Jadwin in 20 minutes of play. Princeton inexplicably failed to make any of its 10 three-point attempts. Even Devin Cannady, who went 6-for-6 on Sunday, whiffed on three shots. Eighteen of the Mountain Hawks’ 22-point lead were produced by six threes.
Much to the credit of Mitch Henderson and his young squad, the Tigers refused to go away in the second half. Cannady, stung by his frustrating showing early, responded brilliantly with 23 second-half points, including five threes. (Cannady’s 164 three-pointers in just over two seasons moves him into seventh place on the Tigers’ career list, ahead of Sydney Johnson’s 162.) Myles Stephens added 10. The diminutive Jose Morales prodded the defense to life and hit a couple of timely buckets.
Slowly, the Tigers chipped away at the lead. With 10 minutes left, Princeton finally got within 10 at 62-52 on a Stephens jumper. Four minutes later the home team cut the lead to eight, again on a Stephens layup. With four minutes remaining, a Sebastian Much three made it 73-68. The freshman is maturing quickly and this shot in a big spot is sure to boost his confidence. At the 1:32 mark, a Cannady transition layup drew the Tigers within two, 75-73. Alas, they would get no closer. That five-point swing at the end of the first half created a hurdle the Tigers could not clear.
The final was 85-76. After yielding 49 first-half tallies, the Tigers bounced back with 51 of their own in the second.
At this juncture, the Tigers are not doing the things on offense upon which the Tiger brand was built. The spacing is awkward and the movement away from the ball is tentative. The result is far too frequent episodes of what is known colloquially in 2017 as “hero ball,” too many 1-on-1 plays in heavy traffic. The lack of movement isolates the remaining players away from the action.
The defense gave up too many good shots, especially in the first half. In the second, the Tigers went back to doubling on the ball down low, a tactic last year’s group employed to near perfection. The result was Lehigh failing to get the shots it wanted to attempt.
Will Gladson returned to action after being cleared by the medical staff. He was understandably somewhat tentative on his balky knee, but showed in limited action why he will be a key player at both ends going forward.
We wrote at the start of the campaign that this team will need 45 points a night from The Big Three to succeed. Last night they produced 54. If they can’t defend better, The Big Three can score 60 and it won’t matter.
The Tigers visit No. 10 Miami Hurricanes on Saturday at 8 p.m. on ESPNU.