Q&A with Princeton associate head coach Brett MacConnell

In an in-depth interview, Princeton associate head coach Brett MacConnell talks about filling in for an ill Mitch Henderson during Princeton’s win at Dartmouth last weekend, the Tigers’ many personnel changes this season, another Ivy Defensive Player of the Year-caliber campaign for Myles Stephens and why Jaelin Llewellyn could be a future Ivy Defensive Player of the Year, Richmond Aririguzoh’s development and impact guarding the post, his own path to becoming associate head coach and much more:

Princeton bows to Brown, 67-63

A depleted and dispirited Tiger squad faced off with an amped up Brown Bear quintet last night at Jadwin. The Bears came in with a chance to play themselves into next week’s Ivy Madness. Their 67-63 wire-to-wire smackdown of Princeton sends them to The Palestra with their tourney aspirations very much alive. The winner of tonight’s Brown-Penn meeting will be in the tournament. Their wins on Friday night against teams already in the field eliminated Cornell, an ironic end for Brian Earl’s dreams on the night his Big Red defeated Harvard, the probable No. 1 seed.

The Tigers took their floor without Ryan Schwieger, their leading scorer over the last four games. He is reportedly “day-to-day” under concussion protocol. Of course, the season’s leading scorer, Devin Cannady, took a leave of absence from the university.

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Princeton ekes past Dartmouth, bows to Harvard

With a record of 7-3, the Tigers headed to New England for the Dartmouth-Harvard trip needing a win on the weekend to punch its ticket to Ivy Madness. The fact that the Tigers’ record against their four remaining opponents contained all three of those losses and only one of the wins was a matter of grave concern to the Tiger staff. The lone win was a 69-68 nail-biter in Jadwin against the Friday foe, Dartmouth’s Big Green.

The staff itself suffered an unexpected loss when its head coach was unable to answer the bell in Hanover. Mitch Henderson was forced to scurry from the floor just prior to tip-off, suffering from what we shall describe as “flu-like symptoms.”

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Princeton pulls away from Columbia, 79-61

The Tigers’ 79-61 defeat of the Columbia Lions last night was the hardest-fought “blowout” I have ever seen.

The Lions, arriving at Jadwin after a stunning upset at The Palestra, had their sights set upon the rare road sweep of what used to be known as “The Killer Ps.” The back-and-forth play in the first half indicated the winner of this game was going to earn it.

With about a minute  and a half to go in the first half, a long three from Jerome Desrosiers, the Tigers’ sixth of the opening period, broke a 29-29 tie. Fifteen seconds later, a Desrosiers steal resulted in two free throws by freshman Max Johns, sending the Tigers into intermission leading, 34-29. Princeton coach Mitch Henderson liked what he was seeing on both ends of the floor but knew he was in another typical Ivy League scrap.

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Princeton’s variety of contributors pays off in 68-59 win over Cornell

As a followup to Mike Tony’s excellent summary of last night’s Ivy League skirmishes, I offer some takeaways from the Tigers’ hard-fought win against Cornell at Jadwin Gym.

Richmond Aririguzoh (RA) turned in a season-best performance in Ithaca, scoring 20 points without a miss from the field in an overtime thriller. In a pregame conversation, Mitch Henderson was effusive in his praise for the Trenton product, stating flatly that he considers the 6’9″ junior the league’s best at his position.
Brian Earl was determined to prevent a repeat of the first game. He deployed two and sometimes three defenders on the big fellow. As a result RA was held to seven points, although he did corral eight rebounds. Earl won that battle but lost the war.

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Harvard pushes past Princeton, 78-69

Spirits were high at Jadwin Gym as last night’s battle for second place between the Tigers and Harvard got underway before a hyped up home crowd and a national TV (ESPNews) audience. Most knowledgeable observers and the oddsmakers predicted a one-possession game in the final minute, the type of game in which home court advantage might be crucial. For the most part, the somewhat limited success Princeton coach Mitch Henderson has enjoyed against Harvard coach Tommy Amaker has been at home.

Both teams experienced lackluster performances last week. The Tigers lost twice on the road (Yale and Brown) while the Crimson were stretched to the limit in a triple overtime win at home against Columbia, followed by a second-half collapse against Cornell on Saturday. Amaker surprised the Ivy community with a rare public putdown of his team, calling his players’ performance against the Big Red “selfish.”
The shoo-in All-Ivy point guard unleashed a Niagara Falls of scoring last week, including 45 against Columbia, almost willing his team to the win last Friday night.
The following Friday night, Aiken’s work against the Tigers would again prove decisive in a 78-69 victory for the visitors, in which Aiken outscored Princeton 20-19 himself in the final 8:10.
A fast start by the constantly improving Richmond Aririguzoh (RA) pushed the Tigers to a 15-8 lead after seven minutes. Undeterred, Harvard used some excellent ball movement and timely shooting to turn things around quickly. The Crimson reclaimed the lead, 21-19, with 9:33 remaining. From that point, Noah Kirkwood, a dazzling freshman talent, and Justin Bassey stymied the Tigers over the next three minutes, extending the visitors’ lead to 32-25. Jaelin Llewellyn’s lone three-pointer for the evening, followed quickly by a Sebastian Much bomb, one of 4 for the Californian, enabled the Tigers to get within one point, 33-32, at the break.
Aiken’s nine and RA’s eight were high for each team at that point. Henderson was quite satisfied with the defensive work of Myles Stephens on Aiken. Once again, Stephens was assigned to the opponent’s best player. Perhaps ominously for the Tigers, Devin Cannady’s first start at home following his three-game suspension was not going well. He was 0-for-4 from beyond the arc and 0-for-1 from the line. For all that, the Tigers were encouraged by the fact that the statistical battle was a virtual standoff through he first 20 minutes. Harvard’s six made free throws to three for the Tigers accounted for the slim Crimson advantage on the scoreboard.
Harvard controlled the play early in the second half, seizing a 42-37 lead after three minutes. A Much-needed (forgive me!) three-pointer kept the Tigers close. His tough layup at the 13:38 mark restored the lead for the Tigers and spurred a five-minute spurt by Princeton tom its largest lead of the evening 54-48 with 8:33 remaining.
With the Tigers holding a one-point lead at the 13:13 mark, Aiken crumpled to the floor in apparent agony. He had twisted his right ankle and was helped to the bench. Fortunately for the Crimson, he was back on the floor in less than a minute.
His presence turned the game around in a way observers will not soon forget.

An Aiken layup cut the lead to four with 8:10 left. RA countered with a layup. On the next Crimson possession, Aiken found himself isolated on Jose Morales. His eyes widened. With the clock running down, Aiken launched a long three-pointer. Morales committed the cardinal sin, sending Aiken to the line to complete the four-point play. Over the next three minutes plus, Aiken posted 11 points, propelling Harvard to a 10-point lead, 70-60, with 3:53 to play.
The Tigers eventually cut Harvard’s lead to 70-64 but would get no closer.
Aiken’s 24 second-half points showcased another phenomenal performance in his team’s successful effort to hold on to a share of second place in the Ivy standings at 5-2. The Tigers third straight loss leaves them at 4-3, still very much alive in the Ivy race.
For Princeton, RA shared scoring honors with Cannady (15), and both Tigers added three assists. Defensively, Aririguzoh held Chris Lewis to nine points in 18 minutes and Henry Welsh to none in 15. Sebastian Much had 14 points in 19 minutes. Jerome Desrosiers pitched in with seven points and five rebounds, all in the first half. He appeared just briefly in the second stanza. Cannady and Llewellyn combined to shoot 2-for-12 from deep. Harvard’s 10 threes to eight for Princeton spelled doom for the home team.
Looking ahead to tonight’s encounter with Dartmouth, one expects RA to get more touches and Morales less. A win tonight may be a critical component in the Tigers’ bid to return to Ivy Madness. A loss turns a promising start to the Ivy season into a desperate struggle to remain relevant.

Brown blows past Princeton, 78-70

Princeton’s weekend road trip got off on a high note when the team learned that Devin Cannady was declared eligible to return to action on Friday. Even a loss at Yale could not diminish the significance of the good news. The trip ended on a sour note, however, as the Brown Bears overcame an early 12-point deficit to take total control of Saturday night’s contest in Providence, turning back the Tigers, 78-70.

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Princeton bows to Yale, 74-60, as Devin Cannady returns

First, the good news: Devin Cannady’s suspension, which shelved him for three games, has been lifted. The criminal charge filed against him has been downgraded to something called “disorderly person,” a minor offense.

The bad news: Yale thoroughly outplayed Princeton in New Haven, leading for most of the evening en route to a 74-60 victory over the first-place Tigers. Yale’s Miye Oni turned in a remarkable effort, reminiscent of Maodo Lo’s 38-point outburst at Jadwin a couple of years ago. Oni scored 35 on a remarkable 13-for-18 from the field, including 5-for-7 from beyond the arc. As a team the Bulldogs outrebounded the Tigers 42-28, grabbing 37 on the defensive end, denying the visitors many second chances on an evening when they desperately needed them. The Tigers’ shooting woes continue. They shot just 33 percent from the field, 18 percent from deep.

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