Coming out of the last of the historic three-week schedule interruptions required by the antiquated Princeton academic schedule, coach Mitch Henderson, as usual, did not know what to expect from his team.
Three years ago, Dartmouth on the road awaited the Tigers after the break. The Big Green were more than ready for the sluggish, rusty Princeton squad, who might have been looking ahead to the next evening’s matchup with Harvard. In any event the Tigers in Hanover went to the locker room at halftime trailing for the first and only time that Ivy season. Only a heroic second half effort by Player of the Year Spencer Weisz saved the Tigers that night en route to a 16-0 record against Ivy competition.
Henderson was hoping for a little less drama and a lot more defense against a dangerous Dartmouth club that had given Harvard all it could handle twice earlier in the month. Henderson got what he wanted and what his team needed: perhaps the best defensive effort of the season in a 66-44 beatdown of the Big Green, sustaining the momentum built up in two great wins against Penn seemingly ages ago.
Dartmouth (7-11, 0-3 Ivy) can put three excellent long-range bombers on the floor around the underrated athletic big man, Chris Knight, at all times. James Foye came in shooting about 48% from deep this season. With Richmond Aririguzoh in the hole, Henderson was less worried about Knight than he was Foye. To contain him, Henderson assigned Ethan Wright, who has occasionally shown tremendous promise. Nagging injuries have, at times, kept the sophomore on the bench but he now appears to be 100% physically, much to his coach’s relief.
“When healthy,” according to Henderson, “Ethan can be a lockdown defender.” Words of high praise usually reserved for Myles Stephens in recent Tiger history.
In holding Foye to seven points on 3-for-11 shooting from the field (1-for-4 from deep), Wright gave his team the defensive identity successful Tiger teams have always enjoyed.
The first half featured some intense back and forth as neither team could gain much of an edge. With seven minutes to go Jose Morales, the diminutive senior spark plug, came off the bench in a 20-20 tie game. The spark plug fired! His contested three-pointer came in the middle of an 8-0 run that gave the Tigers a lead they would not relinquish for the remainder of the contest. Princeton (8-8, 3-0) led at the break, 32-27.
The defensive tenacity of the Tigers was the dominant theme of the second period. Dartmouth managed a meager 17 points after intermission, while the Tigers doubled up with 34. Only two Tigers reached double figures: RA, 13 and Schwieger, 12. All eight of the rotation players scored in a very balanced offensive effort. Wright, in addition to his man-on-man defense, grabbed a team-high eight rebounds. Princeton had a healthy 13 assists and only nine turnovers.
The Big Green shot 36% from the field, 3-for-12 from deep. The visitors shot 0-for-7 from beyond the arc in the second half. For such an intense game the officials let the teams play. Both teams combined for only 10 free throws, each making three.
Henderson was effusive in his praise of Wright.
“His development has been phenomenal, particularly in view of the nagging injuries with which he has had to deal with,” Henderson said. “Richmond sets the bar in terms of work ethic for this team and Ethan reaches for it in every practice.”
An angry Harvard team, smarting from an overtime loss at The Palestra, invades Jadwin in less than 24 hours. No one will be surprised if this is a one-possession game in the last minute.