The Tigers’ opponent was the preseason top 10 Trojans of Southern California, playing what the Los Angeles Times suggested was a tuneup game. The Tigers may have been offended by this evident lack of respect.
In any event, they responded with their best showing to date, dealing the Trojans a 103-93 beating in overtime. While the #2bidivy movement may not be relevant this season, the Tigers’ performance Tuesday night (and Wednesday morning Eastern Time) at Southern Cal shows why a second NCAA Tournament bid is inevitable.
The Tigers were in control for much of the second half after trailing by three at the end of the first period, 36-33. With under a minute to go in regulation, Princeton still held an 81-74 lead. Trading free throws for threes, the Trojans pulled within two with five seconds to go. A costly Tigers turnover on the inbounds pass resulted in a Trojans lay-in to tie the game at 86-86 at the end of regulation. Frankly, at that point, it looked like the visitors had run out of ammo.
But it was the Trojans who were out of gas. Trailing in overtime, 91-90, the Tigers went on a 9-0 run over a two-minute stretch. And this time, the Tigers refused to fold, closing out a very 103-93 victory.
The keys to this win start with the big three. Myles Stephens had the kind of game that will have professional scouts drooling. Last year’s Ivy Defensive Player of the Year had a career-high 30 points, including a perfect 8-for-8 from the charity stripe. He also had a career-high nine rebounds while playing 44 minutes. Devin Cannady had 23 points and another nine rebounds, playing all 45 minutes of action. Rounding out the big three, Amir Bell had nine assists and five steals, playing the kind of floor game that coach Mitch Henderson expects from his point guard – and which he usually gets. You can’t overlook Bell’s 18 points in 43 minutes. In all, the big three scored a remarkable 71 points.
Freshman Sebastian Much clearly enjoys playing in his home state of California. Much is improving by leaps and bounds every night. Against the Trojans, Henderson kept Much on the floor for 41 minutes. Much responded with a 5-for-9 clip from beyond the arc, breaking his career mark of four three-pointers set a few days earlier at Cal Poly. His 19 points was also a career high. The last time the Tigers scored 100 points was at home two years ago against an overmatched Lafayette squad. But a 103-point explosion on the road against a big-time PAC-12 program is unprecedented for the Ivies.
It should be noted that the Tigers outrebounded their bigger and stronger west coast opponents, a statistic as impressive as their 51 percent shooting performance.
The Tigers now head out to Honolulu for the Diamond Head Classic, where they will meet Middle Tennessee State on Friday at 5:30 p.m., a game you can see on ESPNU. Former opponents Miami and these same Trojans are also in that field. It promises to be an exciting Christmas week of action for the Tigers. They will play on Friday, Saturday and then again on Christmas Day.