Princeton nipped late by Arizona State, though Tigers are clearly improving

Tiger fans were treated Tuesday evening to something they have sorely missed this young season: an exciting nail-biter of a college basketball game. The Arizona State Sun Devils capped off an eastern swing seeking revenge for last year’s remarkable upset at the hands of the Tigers in Tempe. In the end ASU got its revenge, but not before the Tigers pushed them into the final seconds with the outcome very much in doubt. A long baseline three by ASU’s Khalid Thomas inside of five seconds left settled the matter, 67-65.

Arizona State came into Jadwin Gym as solid 10-point favorites and very nearly fashioned an upset of their two days ago, extending the defending champion Virginia Cavaliers to the limit in a three-point loss. They will return to The Valley of the Sun grateful for having escaped disaster on the shores of Lake Carnegie.

First things first. A tip of the cap must be given to ASU’s point guard with the delicious-sounding name (believe me, I know), Remy Martin. Martin put on a dazzling show the likes of which have not been witnessed on Carril Court since the days of Maado Lo. Playing all 40 minutes, the diminutive Martin canned 33 points (13-for-23), grabbed four rebounds and added three assists. He made acrobatic plays at the basket, hit stop-and-pop jumpers from 12-15 feet and made three long-range daggers. Let’s hope he’s the best player the Tigers will face this season.

For the second straight game Henderson started freshman Ryan Langborg and Tosan Evbuomwan alongside Richmond Aririguzoh, Jaelin Llewellyn and Drew Friberg. The performance of this group warrants some more exposure as the Tigers played brilliantly in the first half.

RA and Langborg carried the scoring load for the Tigers, combining for 20 first half tallies, while the swarming Princeton defense, featuring effective trapping double teams on Sun Devil post players, caused an uncomfortable number of forced shots.

Halfway through the first period, the Tigers had yielded a miserly 10 points and found themselves on the fat end of a 20-10 margin. Three minutes later, Princeton extended the lead to 26-14, the widest margin the home team would enjoy all evening.

When RA was forced to the bench after collecting a second personal foul, the Tigers’ lack of depth in the post was glaringly exposed. Led by Martin, the Sun Devils closed out the first half on a 12-5 run. The Tigers took a 31-26 lead to the locker room, hoping to avoid the second-half fadeaways that have plagued them thus far.

Neither team gave much ground as the second period unfolded. The Sun Devils, slowly, but with an air of inevitability, crept back. A long martin three at the 16;26 mark gave the visitors their first lead of the night, 37-36.

Jose “The Sparkplug” Morales answered for the Tigers a minute later with a three of his own. Tigers 39-37. Remy Martin simply took over at that point, rattling off an unanswered seven points, lifting the Sun Devils to their biggest lead, 46-39, with 13 minutes remaining.

Clearly, gut check time for the Tigers was at hand. Evbuomwan, a freshman, responded with a nifty move to the basket, 46-41. A Tiger stop set up Friberg for a running baseline three, 46-44. This spectacular play brought the lethargic Tiger crowd very much alive.

Another ASU turnover followed by a gorgeous Friberg back door cut tied the score at 46. The Tigers were not going away.

A free throw restored the lead for the Sun Devils. The Tiger defense rallied to hold ASU to two Martin free throws over the next three minutes. The Tiger offense produced a Llewellyn three, a tough inside hoop and one by RA (sadly, and prophetically, he missed the free throw), a Max Johns layup in traffic and another running Friberg three. Wen the dust settled, the Tigers were on top, 56-49. The clock was at 7:50.

A Martin bucket and a Sun Devil cut the lead to four. Llewellyn made an impossible twisting move to extend the lead to six. He was rewarded for his effort with a free throw but could not connect.

RA was then whistled for an offensive foul, his fourth, with five minutes left. Reluctantly, Henderson sat him, passing by Jerome Desrosiers for the little-used Elijah Barnes.

Martin’s 27th and 28th points drew the visitors within four.

Barnes was fouled on the floor, sending him to the line for a one-and-one and a chance to extend the lead back to six. He missed the front end in what turned out to be the game’s turning point. Martin’s five-point spurt gave ASU a one-point lead with three minutes remaining.

The parties exchanged several empty possessions. An ASU pass went out of bounds near midcourt at the 1:19 mark. The call went to ASU, but the officials decided to go the monitor. The ensuing review lasted nearly five minutes and involved all three officials offering their individual judgments. The original call was allowed to stand. Sun Devil ball with 17 seconds on the shot clock. Khalid Thomas hit a bomb, making it a four-point game with 1:06 to go.

Ten seconds later, another Friberg three pulled the Tigers within one. The Sun Devils cleared out for Martin, who maneuvered for the clincher. Shockingly, he missed and the Tigers grabbed the rebound.

Llewellyn found Evbuomwan at the elbow. The freshman executed a dazzling move to the basket. When his shot kissed off the glass, the Tigers had the lead, 65-64, with just under 20 seconds to play.

Martin was well covered in the ASU frontcourt. He dished to Thomas in the right corner for the do-or-die effort. Thomas cooly drained his 22 footer to bring this wild affair to a close.

The Tigers played quite well all night. Their defense kept them in it, despite the remarkable heroics of Remy Martin. They outrebounded the Sun Devils and shot an acceptable 47% (27-for-57). Princeton missed 21 threes, an unacceptable number going forward. Friberg and Langborg have established themselves as fearless sharpshooters who will get even better.  A healthy Ethan Wright and Ryan Schwieger should be able to share the load.

RA had another astounding game, scoring a team-high 16 points (8-for-14) and an otherworldly 18 rebounds. He also dished for a team-high five assists. His status on this club is quite clear: indispensable.

Free throw shooting has been inexplicably lacking through five games. In blowout losses, this deficiency is easy to overlook. In a two-point buzzer-beating loss, however, bad free throw shooting is impossible to ignore. The Sun Devils’ 11 made free throws more than accounted for the margin of victory, as the Tigers made only four of nine.

It’s difficult to find the silver lining in a cloud of five straight losses, but this team is clearly improving. The teams the Tigers have played this season are a combined 24-4. Henderson and his staff have their focus set on the Ivy schedule, still more than a month away.

Princeton visits Bucknell for a Saturday matinee on November 30. Three years ago, a mid-December trip to Lewisburg resulted in a Tiger victory, igniting their great run through an unbeaten Ivy schedule to a berth in the Big Show. Who knows?

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

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