On Tuesday the stage was set for the Tigers to make a positive early-season statement, a home opener in a “winnable” game against nearby Patriot League rival, Fran O’Hanlon’s Lafayette Leopards.
The Tigers made a statement, but it was a decidedly negative one.
The script on the road for the first two games featured strong first half performances, followed by inept finishes. In a mystifying and deeply troubling reversal, the Tigers laid a first-half egg, allowing the Leopards to outscore them 24-11 over the final 10 minutes. Some excellent inside work by Richmond Aririguzoh and three Drew Friberg threes kept the score close, 21-20 Leopards, at the 10:11 mark. Then the roof caved in.
The situation continued to deteriorate early in the second stanza, as the Leopards extended their lead to 18. As he has so often over the years, Henderson turned to 5’ 9” senior sparkplug, Jose Morales. Once again, Morales worked his magic, spurring the Tigers on a 9-0 run, reducing the deficit to a manageable nine points. His helter-skelter, run-amok style energized his teammates to reach a level of defensive intensity not seen in the early season.
The comeback effort unraveled when a missed box out cost the Tigers a needed defensive rebound. The Leopards turned the opportunity into a long Justin Jaworski bomb-and-one. The four-point play stunned the Tigers, leaving the outcome no longer in doubt.
Morales, however, refused to concede. The Tigers, trailing by 15 with 2:44 to go, got Morales to the line. His two free throws jump started an 11-0 run in which Jaelin Llewellyn figured prominently. The Tigers closed to 69-65 but ran out of time. Three Leopard free throws made the final 72-65 in a game that did not seem to be that close.
Jaworski’s 23 led all scorers. For the Tigers, RA (19), Friberg (16 including 4-for-8 from deep) and Llewellyn (13) reached double figures. Princeton continues to stagnate offensively, managing just eight assists on 25 baskets.
Three-point shooting was the key to this game. Lafayette made nine of 11 in the first half while the Tigers canned a meager three of 17 in the second.
Princeton visits the Indiana Hoosiers of the Big Ten next Wednesday, followed by a return to Jadwin Gym to host Bobby Hurley’s Arizona State Sun Devils, victims of a remarkable upset at the hands of the Tigers last season in the desert. The Tigers close out November at Bucknell on the 30th. It is likely that the Tigers will enter December at 0-6.
I am not ready to push the panic button, but I am feeling around to locate it.