Two struggling New Jersey clubs squared off Saturday afternoon in Stratis Arena on the campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University. The Knights, defending champions of the Northeast (NEC) Conference, had stumbled to a 2-7 early record. The visiting Princeton Tigers sported a similarly dismal 1-7 mark, including two buzzer-beating losses at home to ASU and Monmouth.
Analytics guru Ken Pomeroy projected a one-point Princeton win. The Tigers may have blown a Pomeroy circuit board as they pulled away in the second half, cruising to an 80-65 win, the 150th in Mitch Henderson’s head coaching career.
Both teams came out with guns blazing. For the first time this season, the Tigers (2-7) managed to execute their offense nearly to perfection, with constant ball and player movement, resulting in a lot of layups and kick-out threes. Overall, Princeton made 13 of 23 shots in the first half and a most encouraging six of 11 from deep. FDU (2-8) fouled too often, sending the Tigers to the line 12 times, resulting in 10 Tiger points. Richmond Aririguzoh and Jaelin Llewellyn combined for 17 first-half tallies, while Ryan Schwieger, Ethan Wright, Jerome Desrosiers and Drew Friberg all struck from beyond the arc.
The Tigers had point leads on three occasions but the Knight defense forced nine turnovers from which they harvested 10 points to keep things close. After a most entertaining 20 minutes of action the teams went to intermission knotted at 42.
The eventual blowout was set up in the first seven minutes of the second half. Three Tiger bombs highlighted an 18-point explosion while the Knights were limited to just three. The capper to this nice rally came when RA grabbed an offensive rebound that just grazed the rim as the shot clock expired. His putback gave the Tigers a 60-45 lead.
After going 4-for-25 from deep four days earlier the Tigers flipped the script in this one, making 11 of 24 from three point territory. Henderson was thrilled to review a stat sheet reflecting that the Tigers shot 50% from the field (26 of 52) and made 17 free throws in 23 chances. RA was again the anchor, recording his second straight double double (18 points and 12 rebounds). Ryan Schwieger went 4-for-5 from deep, adding seven rebounds and a career-high four assists. Jaelin Llewellyn did not score in the second half but his defensive effort against the Knight’s best player, Jahlil Jenkins, thwarted the FDU offense during the Tigers’ second-half run.
While the Tigers would prefer a better record at this point this game demonstrated what a healthy Tiger team can do. The rotation is very clearly falling into place. Princeton can put multiple legitimate three-point shooters on the floor at all times. A healthy RA is a devastating scorer from in close and can rebound with the best of the Ivy bigs. Llewellyn gains in confidence as the floor general in each outing. Schwieger’s impact can not be overstated. Since his return, the Tigers could very well be 4-for-4 in the win column.
Three games remain on the 2019 portion of the schedule. Princeton plays Iona on Tuesday night in Brooklyn before returning home on the 19th to put out the welcome mat for Hofstra. The out-of-conference schedule wraps up on Sun., Dec. 29 with a 4 p.m. game against Lehigh.
The Tiger women also play at home on the 29th, opening the doubleheader with New Hampshire at 1 p.m. The women are off to a 9-1 start, with four of those wins coming without the services of Bella Alarie. Earlier today, as Rob Browne reported, the Tigers with Alarie bombed the Penn State women at Jadwin, 72-55.