The Princeton Tigers returned to the northeast, hoping to shake off the trauma of their 101-50 smackdown Tuesday by the NBA’s Durham Blue Devils. On Friday night, the Tigers visited traditional foe Lafayette in what Mitch Henderson hoped might be a welcome change of pace. In no mood to cooperate, the Leopards came in determined to turn their season around after a dismal 2-7 start.
Coach Mitch Henderson prepared his team for what he characterized as a “typically tough league game on the road.” Fran O’Hanlon’s team employs a disciplined offensive style, emphasizing ball and player movement with a lot of screens, usually resulting in an open look somewhere.
After a somewhat sluggish start, the visitors enjoyed a late 11-5 run to close the first half with a 41-35 lead.
Jaelin Llewellyn and Jose Morales canned back-to-back threes early in the second half to give the Tigers what seemed to be a comfortable 12-point lead. When the lead was extended to 16, a palpable wave of relief descended over the Princeton contingent (me).
Lafayette was having none of that. The Leopards went on their own run, 14-3, helped measurably by a technical foul-induced four-point play at the 14:23 mark. Sebastian Much was whistled for a personal foul against a Leopard, who took umbrage at the force of the blow. The ensuing shoving match resulted in a momentary loss of composure by the sophomore from California.
With six minutes remaining, Lafayette closed the deficit to 64-61. Henderson’s hoped-for breather was no longer in the cards.
The Tigers’ senior leaders rose to the occasion. Myles Stephens scored on consecutive strong moves to the basket, where he is difficult to contain. The Tigers’ lead by seven with 8:40 to go. The Leopards held the Tigers scoreless for the next four minutes, narrowing the lead to one, 68-67, at the 4:40 mark.
Senior Devin Cannady made two jumpers to give Princeton a 72-69 lead a minute later. Two huge baskets by Richmond Aririguzoh, one a thunderous highlight reel dunk, appeared to skate the Tigers out of danger.
Again the Leopards fought back. The Tigers conceded a Leopard two-point layup, rather than risking a tying three with 10 seconds remaining. Two Stephens and three Cannady free throws kept the Leopards caged. Final: Princeton 81, Lafayette 79.
The contest was intensely physical, with the Tigers often getting the worst of it. At one point, Cannady was pummeled to the floor, where he remained for several agonizing minutes. He was awarded two free throws for his trouble. Still feeling the effects of the hard foul, he missed the first, only the second time he has missed this season. Both misses occurred after hard fouls.
Myles Stephens and Jaelin Llewellyn both tweaked previous injuries: for Stephens a knee and for Llewellyn the ankle that kept him on the bench for the first seven games. Each player required the assistance of teammates to leave the floor. Fortunately, great work by the Tiger trainer enabled both players to return to action, much to the relief of Henderson and Tiger fans everywhere. No word on their status going forward.
Cannady was simply outstanding. His double-double effort, 24 points and 11 rebounds, was high for the Tigers in both categories. In all, Princeton had five players in double figures. Stephens (14), RA (14), Llewellyn (11) and Morales (10) joined the party with substantial contributions. One positive note: The Tigers’ three turnovers were the fewest in the Henderson era dating back to 2011.
Princeton’s final nonconference contest will be another overweight match against a Top 20 squad, Arizona State, in Tempe on Dec. 29.
The Ivy home opener against Penn looms on Jan. 5. For the only time this season, the Tiger men and women will play a doubleheader, with the first game to tip off at 2 p.m.