Once again, Mike Tony has posted an excellent recap of Penn’s frustrating outing at Princeton Friday night. It might be worthwhile for Tiger fans to consider the significant elements of the sweep and what the implications may be going forward.
- Penn’s defensive adjustments. In last week’s 14-point loss, Penn eschewed the double team, electing to use man-to-man exclusively. The result: 52 Tiger points in the paint. On Friday, Penn went to the double team early, reducing the “paint” output to 36, and essentially neutralizing Richmond Aririguzoh for the first time in four matchups.
Penn’s tactics opened up numerous three-point opportunities for Princeton. The Tigers launched 26 attempts, compared to just 11 a week ago. They were successful 11 times, accounting for more than half of their 63 total for the game.
- Brodeur’s big game. AJ Brodeur, still smarting from three straight Tiger wins in which his nemesis, RA, played brilliantly, returned to his POY form. Brodeur’s double double (22 points, 13 rebounds) combined with tough defensive work, breathed life into the Quakers’ hopes.
For his part, RA found himself unable to get to the basket effectively. He was limited to only eight shots and three makes. He also got into foul trouble, forcing him to the bench for crucial second-half minutes. (He did, however, grab a game-high 16 rebounds.)
Taking advantage of the opportunities given them enabled the Tigers to limit the damage Brodeur was able to inflict. Adjusting to “events on the ground” frustrated the Quakers and sent Princeton’s confidence soaring.
- Tiger defense. Penn’s offense was the most productive in the Ivy League in November and December, averaging 79 points per game. Friday’s 58 was a season low. Penn’s average for the two Princeton games was 61.
Mitch Henderson’s most successful teams excel on defense. This group appears to be coming together in that regard at just the right time. In the early going Princeton was near the bottom of Division I in defending the three point line. Against Penn, the Tigers gave up only eight makes in 44 attempts, or less than 20%.
- The Morales Factor. The Tigers’ smallest player has the biggest heart. The kid known as “the Spark Plug” manages to use his speed and tenacity to make positive contributions in nearly every game. At the Palestra a week ago he was forced to get off a shot just as the shot clock was expiring. He made it over the much taller Ryan Betley to sustain Tiger momentum.
On Friday night, Henderson kept him on the floor for 17 minutes, with instructions to harass his man endlessly. At one point late in the second half he found himself one-on-one with Brodeur after a switch. Naturally, the Quakers got the ball inside, seeking to exploit the mismatch. Just as naturally, Morales slapped the ball away into the hands of a teammate, avoiding an almost certain Quaker score.
In the last 20 seconds, Morales had the ball and the Tigers had a three-point lead. With all his teammates covered and the shot clock once again running out, Morales headed for the basket. His twisting, left-handed prayer was answered. Tigers up five with nine seconds to go.
Game over. The kid Henderson lovingly calls “my knucklehead” came through again.
The Tigers once again go into the winter hiatus atop the Ivy League at 2-0. We must all hope that no player decides to visit a Wawa at 2 a.m. this year. See you in three weeks.