The Tigers’ prospects entering Saturday’s road game at Bucknell were not bright. Ken Pomeroy’s analytics suggested a six-point Bison triumph. Princeton fans, while not at all pleased with the 0-5 start, were quick to point out that their opponents were a collective 27-4. While Bucknell is projected to finish second in the Patriot League, the Bison are off to a mediocre 3-5 start, including most recently a 20-point thrashing by Yale.
Princeton coach Mitch Henderson started the same quintet that took the floor against Arizona State on Tuesday: Richmond Aririguzoh, Jaelin Llewellyn, Drew Friberg and freshmen Tosan Evbuomwan and Ryan Langborg. Observers noted that Ryan Schwieger, who had not appeared since leaving the first game with a leg injury, was in uniform and was an eager participant in warmups.
Sparked by two Langborg threes, the Tigers broke quickly from the starting gate to lead 10-2 three and a half minutes in.
Bucknell guard Jimmy Sotos led a Bison surge over the next 10 minutes, producing a 17-17 tie. The Tigers were buoyed by the appearance in the lineup of Schwieger. Showing no rust, the junior forward was able to contribute a very productive 20 minutes of work on the afternoon.
Playing at a fast pace, neither team could separate itself from the other over the closing seven minutes of the half. Bucknell took the lead, 43-39, at intermission.
The game was almost a dead heat statistically in the opening period. The Bison’s two more made threes accounted for the difference on the scoreboard. Henderson was encouraged by his team’s shooting: 50% overall, 40% from deep and 78% (7-for-9) from the charity stripe. Significantly, the Tigers were more than holding their own on the glass.
Llewellyn and Schwieger got hot early in the second half, sparking an 11-4 run and a 50-47 Tiger lead. The rally was capped by an acrobatic Llewellyn layup and one (he made it!), bringing the Tiger bench players to their feet,
After Bucknell tied the score, for what was to be the last time, the Tigers fashioned their most effective offensive splurge of the season. The breathtaking 17-0 run, accomplished over five minutes, ran the lead to 67-50. The rally was started by an Aririguzoh bucket in close and ended by a Llewellyn three-pointer. In between, Jerome Desrosiers, largely overlooked lately, made a compelling case for more playing time, with a dagger three in traffic and a huge putback of a Friberg miss. Evbuomwan contributed six points in this stretch with a three of his own as well as three free throws.
The Bison were not finished. A sloppy Tiger turnover at midcourt resulted in a Bison layup at the 8:23 mark, reducing the 17-point lead to just four. Aririguzoh stepped up again. After pulling down a defensive carom he muscled in a tough hoop. On the next Tiger possession he fed Evbuomwan on a gorgeous give-and-go play. Tigers back up by eight, 74-66.
Drew Friberg drew the fifth personal on Bison big man Bruce Moore with 5:30 remaining. Friberg’s two free throws restored the lead to double digits. On the next Tiger possession the active Bison defense forced the Tigers to use up 29 seconds on the shot clock. Schwieger used the last tick to nail a three, effectively ending the contest. The Tigers’ lead was extended to 82-71 under four minutes.
The 87-77 Tiger victory brought a smile to the face of the visibly relieved Henderson. It also sent a message to the rest of the Ivy League: Do not take Princeton for granted.
This game was full of positives for the Tigers. The return of Ryan Schwieger is perhaps the most significant. The lanky forward was 6-for-9 from the field, including three of four from deep, and shared scoring honors with Jaelin Llewellyn at 17. Princeton assisted on 16 of its 30 baskets, with Schwieger’s four leading the team. Princeton shot 13 of 25 from beyond the arc, to the Bison’s seven of 19. The Tigers enjoyed a 36-25 advantage in rebounding , led by the freshman Evbuomwan with eight. Five Princeton players reached double figures: Schwieger and Llewellyn 17, Aririguzoh 15, Evbuomwan and Desrosiers 10. Ethan Wright, another player who was injured for several games, returned to play 23 minutes, adding seven rebounds.
We now have a somewhat clearer picture of the rotation likely to emerge going forward. The starting lineup seems set, although Schwieger may very well get into that group soon. Wright and a resurgent Desrosiers add necessary depth. We all know that Henderson will call on “Spark Plug” Morales when needed. Evbuomwan and Langborg are not playing like freshmen. And, of course, Aririguzoh is the team’s bell cow.
The Tigers play at Drexel on Wednesday evening. This will be the first matchup against a Pomeroy-ranked team lower than the Tigers. Expect a close game all the way.