PRINCETON – The Tigers welcomed intrastate rival Monmouth to Jadwin Gym Tuesday evening in what has become a most entertaining series.
Last year, these two teams struggled to score against each other in what looked at times more like a street fight than a basketball game. A late Devin Cannady three-pointer gave the Tigers a 60-57 win. Mitch Henderson and his Hawk counterpart, King Rice, each arrived in their current positions in 2011. They have become good friends over the years as well as rivals on the court.
Cannady, now a member of the Brooklyn Nets’ G-League team, was in the building to be honored for his stellar accomplishments as a four year starter at Princeton. His senior season was derailed by unfortunate personal issues in January forcing him to take a leave of absence from the university. He was well on his way to second place on the Tiger career scoring list. He has enrolled in the University to complete his studies. He was greeted by thunderous applause when he appeared on the court prior to the opening tip-off.
Off to the worst start in many years and certainly the worst of the Henderson era (1-7), the Tigers need look no further than the three-point shooting percentages to explain their miseries. They are surrendering threes at an astounding rate of 44%, “good” enough for a Division I ranking of 352. On offense the Tigers are shooting a mediocre 30%, seventh in the Ivy League, ahead of only Cornell. Both of these factors would figure prominently in the outcome Tuesday night.
Things started well for Princeton. After controlling the opening tap freshman Tosan Ebvuomwan put the Tigers on the board in their first possession. Fresh legs on defense helped Princeton spurt to an 11-3 margin, capped a Jerome Desrosiers three at the 15:50 mark. Tellingly, Princeton would not make another for more than 22 minutes. They would misfire 18 times in the interim.
The Hawks (5-5) finally took flight, led by All-MAAC candidates Deion Hammond and Ray Salnave. Monmouth finished the half on a 32-13 run to go to the locker room ahead 35-24. Princeton remained in touch, despite truly abominable shooting from deep, a performance that had Devin Cannady burying his face in his hands.
Early in the second half, Monmouth gave every indication that they would blow the Tigers away on their home court, leading by 14 on two occasions, 41-27 after four minutes, and again 51-37 at the 11-minute mark. But by that time the Hawks, who had not fouled much in the first half, had committed six personals in the second. They would pay dearly for their sloppy defense. Over the next 4:20 the Tigers, uncharacteristically this season made 10 free throws sandwiched around a Richmond Aririguzoh layup to make it a ballgame, 52-49 Hawks with 6:40 remaining. Ethan Wright made six of six in this stretch.
Both offenses picked up steam at that point. The Hawks managed 10 points in the next five minutes, but the Tigers canned 14, including two long threes by the suddenly red hot Ethan Wright. Just like that the Tigers had reclaimed the lead, 63-62 with 1:24 to go. In the next minute a Wright defensive rebound and steal kept the Hawks at bay. Llewellyn went to the line for two FT’s with 19 seconds left. He made the first but, alas, rimmed out on the second. The Hawks’ Salnave grabbed the rebound and went coast-to-coast to tie it at 64. Henderson called time out to set up a play at the :07 mark.
The Tigers lined up with Wright to inbound the basketball. Henderson saw something and called another timeout. When the Tigers came out again, Llewellyn inbounded to Ryan Schwieger and cut around him. Everyone assumed Llewellyn would get the ball back for a shot to win it. The Hawks overplayed him, opening up a clear lane for Schwieger, who took off for the hoop. A desperation foul put the right man on the line for the Tigers. Schwieger coolly made his two free throws, giving the Tigers the lead, 66-64, with just four ticks left on the clock.
Four ticks was enough for the resourceful Salnave, who maneuvered to the Tigers’ three point line to launch a shot as the buzzer sounded. Naturally, it went in. The officials kept both teams on the floor for a video review of two issues: Was it a three or a two, and did he get it off in time? On this storm- tossed sea of a season the answer was not really in doubt. The Hawks won by the narrowest of margins, 67-66, mirroring the outcome in the Tigers’ last home game against Arizona State.
In most statistical categories the game was a virtual dead heat. Both teams had 22 field goals, but, while the Hawks shot 8-for-15 from deep, the Tigers launched 25 threes, making only four, a paltry rate of 16%.
Henderson understandably pointed to the Tigers’ refusal to lay down in the second half as the story line going forward. RA’s 19 points and 10 rebounds gave him a rare double-double. Llewellyn’s 12 points, nine rebounds and a career-high seven assists had him knocking on the triple-double door. Ethan Wright joined them with 14 points and a perfect 6-for-6 from the line.
King Rice was philosophical after the game, reminding everyone that Cannady sunk the knife late last year. He said he reminded his team all week that Princeton would not go away even if trailing by double digits late.
“Maybe now they will believe me,” he allowed as he left the building.
The Tigers visit Fairleigh Dickinson Saturday afternoon before meeting Iona at The Barclays Center on Dec. 17. The Ivy opener at Penn on January 4 is looming.