The Miami Hurricanes smashed the Tigers, 80-52, Saturday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. Princeton fans need to look beyond the score to find positives in this one, but they are most assuredly present.
To give credit where it’s due, Miami import from Europe by way of Australia, DJ Vasiljevic, was the best player on the floor at both ends. He bottled up Devin Cannady on defense, while leading the Hurricanes with 20 points, shooting a very efficient 5-for-7 from beyond the arc. He should be in the first-team All-ACC mix.
On the positive side for the Tigers, they executed for the first 10 minutes in precisely the way coach Mitch Henderson has been expecting since the first tip-off at Butler. Although the Tigers managed only 16 points, the ball movement and player spacing were as good as at any time in the still early season. One had the impression that the rookies each had an “Oh, now I get it” moment. Even more encouraging, Princeton held the explosive Hurricanes to just 14 over the first quarter of the game. The defensive intensity reminded this writer, if only fleetingly, of last year’s Ivy champions at their best. While it is certainly true that the bigger, faster and stronger Hurricanes overwhelmed the Tigers from then on, they will do that to a lot of teams. Henderson saw what his club can do and, more importantly, his kids saw what they can do. As Henderson reminds us constantly, it’s a process. He believes his team is getting better in measurable ways each week.
The three freshmen each played half the game or more, a clear sign that each will be a key element in the rotation, and further, that Henderson is focusing on a rotation that will be limited to eight or nine players (depending on the status of Will Gladson), rather than the 11 to 12 we have seen regularly to this point. Sebastian Much played 26 minutes, as did Myles Stephens. Much misfired on all 10 of his shots, including nine threes, but was getting good looks. The fact that he kept shooting is a good sign. On some nights, they just will not fall.
Amir Bell led the Tigers with 13 points and six rebounds. Stephens is in a mild slump just now, struggling to get into rhythm on offense, while drawing the team’s toughest three or four on defense. He will be fine. Gladson looked very good early but tweaked his knee, limiting him to just seven minutes. He is day-to-day.
The Tigers will not shoot 21 percent from deep very often. One feels confident that 32 three-point attempts will usually yield 40+ points, rather than the 24 the Tigers scored yesterday. Princeton did a nice job on the glass with 31 caroms, including an encouraging 10 on offense.
Next up is a Dec. 6 visit to the nation’s capital to play George Washington University.