The Tigers squared off against the Iona Gaels at 11:30 a.m. this morning in a nearly empty arena on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, N.J. Fellow Ivy League member Columbia defeated Iona in a very close contest at Madison Square Garden last weekend. After a tough 85-81 victory the Tigers proved by transitive property, at the very least, that they can play with Columbia.,
If a nonconference contest is ever a “must win” game this was clearly the case for both teams. Iona (2-7) came in on a four-game losing streak, strange territory for the three-time defending Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) champions. The Tigers, at 4-4 but facing Duke and Arizona State later this month, needed to win a game in which they figured to have a chance.
Win they did, but just barely. If this were a game played in quarters, the story line would be that the Tigers won the first, the Gaels the second and third, while the Tigers rebounded to claim the fourth, and with it, the game.
Each team made 30 field goals and each made 13 threes. The Tigers made four more free throws (12 of 14), all in the second half.
Jaelin Llewellyn was even more impressive in his second collegiate game than he was in his debut. He and Devin Cannady scored 22 points apiece, 44 of Princeton’s 85. Llewellyn had an eye-popping eight assists, displaying a tremendous all-around game. Anyone watching him for the first time would never believe that he is a freshman. Cannady canned six threes to grab eighth place on the Tigers’ all-time scoring list. He seems to move up every night out.
Early on the Tigers appeared in complete control, taking a 13-point lead. The Gaels promptly went on a 19-5 run to claim a 31-30 lead at the break. The Tigers played poorly at the defensive end during this stretch, while Iona totally turned around its shooting woes from the first 15 minutes.
Princeton’s defensive issues persisted into the second half. A 15-0 run by the Gaels, in a five minute burst, broke a close game wide open. With 12 minutes to play Princeton trailed by 13, a 26-point turnaround by Iona in less than 20 minutes. Although Myles Stephens started very strongly, scoring six points in the first minute of, he was a nonfactor for much of the game, reverting to his less than stellar form of late.
A three-point play from the constantly improving Richmond Aririguzoh cut the Gaels’ lead to nine at the 9:40 mark. Coach Mitch Henderson went deep into his bench, sending freshman Drew Friberg into the game, replacing Myles Stephens.
This may be looked back upon as a turning point for the season. Friberg had not played since November and entered the game on an 0-for-10 streak from the field. Touted as a three-point specialist by Henderson, the young man had done little to support his reputation.
Certainly aware that fans from his home town of State College, Pa., were in the building to see Penn State play later this afternoon, Friberg was determined to show them what they were going to miss for the next four years. He also made his coach look like a genius. Enjoying himself as he mostly did in high school, Friberg tossed in three long-range bombs in the next seven minutes. His work, along with plenty of help from Cannady and Llewellyn, enabled the Tigers to reclaim the lead with 1:31 to go. Four Cannady free throws and one by Stephens kept the Gaels at bay.
Princeton had five players reach double figures, but it was Friberg’s nine-point explosion that lit the fire. Myles Stephens played 23 minutes, the fewest since early in his sophomore season when he was not a starter. Sebastian Much was a DNP. The continuing fine play from Jose Morales and RA has stabilized what appears to be the starting lineup (Cannady, Stephens, RA, Morales and Llewellyn) for the foreseeable future.
The Tigers now head to Durham for a Tuesday encounter with the No. 2-ranked Duke Blue Devils, another David vs. Goliath mismatch. The 6 p.m. contest will be televised nationally on ESPN2. Then Princeton will head north for a game at Lafayette on Friday.