Last night’s contest between the Tigers and the Brown Bears matched two clubs apparently heading in different directions. The Bears, winners of five straight, including a win the previous night in Philadelphia, came in focused on a shot at the league title. The Tigers, on the other hand, had squandered their hot start by failing to be competitive in two of their last three outings. The humiliating loss to Yale was galling in every way. The question for Mitch Henderson was how his kids would respond just 22 hours later.
The winner of this one would at least maintain a hold on second place and move a step closer to Ivy Madness.
It was Princeton that got it done, 73-54, with a bounceback performance.
A minute in to the game, Ethan Wright grabbed a rebound for the Tigers. Brandon Anderson, Brown’s hero against Penn, made a nice steal and headed for what seemed a sure basket. Suddenly, Jaelin Llewellyn managed to set himself in Anderson’s path just outside the restraining circle, turning the inevitable collision into an easy player control foul call. A different Tiger team was on the floor tonight.
The teams played evenly for the first 10 minutes, although this was primarily due to Llewellyn’s failure to find the range on several open looks. Field goals by Wright, who would emerge as the player of the game, and Ryan Schwieger gave the Tigers the lead, 18-15, at the 8:31 mark. From there, the Tiger defense went into high gear, limiting Brown to just nine points for the remainder of the half, while the offense contributed 19.
Ethan Wright was enjoying the game of his short life. His 16 first-half points were primarily responsible for the Tigers’ 37-24 lead. One play in particular, not involving Wright, was a perfect example of the Tigers’ team effort. With about five minutes left, the Tigers’ spark plug, Jose Morales, deftly stole the ball from Brown’s Zach Hunsaker. He then found Schwieger in traffic near the basket. The Brown defenders forced a miss but left Llewellyn uncovered for the rebound. The sophomore’s emphatic two-handed dunk electrified the crowd and probably left the Bears thinking “a road split ain’t that bad …”.
The Tigers took the floor for the second half determined to maintain the defensive pressure. They did.
Steadily and with great efficiency, the Tigers extended their advantage. A Morales three-pointer pushed the lead to 52-32 with eight minutes left. This one was all but over.
In fairness, Brown was pushed very hard for 40 minutes against Penn, while the Tiger regulars spent much of the Yale game on the bench. This factor undoubtedly worked to Princeton’s benefit on Saturday. Nevertheless, Brown was held to just 30 points for the half and 54 for the game, a solid performance by the Tiger defenders.
Wright’s stat line for the evening was very impressive. He canned 21 points, a career high, on 9-for-10 shooting from the field, 3-for-4 from deep. He grabbed four rebounds and dished out four assists. Richmond Aririguzoh made all six of his field goal tries and gathered six rebounds. Llewellyn overcame his slow start to add 15 points and two steals. Morales, playing 25 minutes, was perfect 3-for-3 from the field and also contributed two assists and three steals.
For the Bears, Anderson and Hunsaker combined for 28 points but also a dreary eight turnovers. Oh, those Saturday nights on back-to-back weekends.
Henderson got the answer he wanted and finished the evening very proud of his team.
The top five Ivy teams have separated themselves from the bottom three, but not from each other. Yale’s loss at Penn keeps the Tigers and Bulldogs tied in first place but Brown, Penn and Harvard are all just a game behind. Yale, Brown and Harvard all stay home for the next four games while Penn and Princeton embark on four-game road trips, the toughest stretch for both clubs. See you next week.