Myles Stephens: The silent assassin

The silent assassin strikes in one of his louder moments. (Princeton Athletics)

Just moments after his Yale Bulldogs were eliminated by the Princeton Tigers in the inaugural Ivy League Tournament, James Jones faced a contingent of media reps seeking his analysis of the tourney final.

Jones does not parse his words. He said that during a timeout in the second half, called to halt the gathering Tiger momentum, he noticed on the stat sheet that Myles Stephens, the Tiger sophomore, had scored 18 points. He turned to an assistant and asked, “How did that happen? That’s the quietest 18 points I have ever seen.” He described Stephens as “the silent assassin.”

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Mitch Henderson finds the perfect pitch for Princeton

In his sixth season as Princeton’s head coach, Mitch Henderson led the Tigers to the Ivy League’s first undefeated regular season since 2007-08. (Ivy League Digital Network)

For Mitch Henderson, the climb to the top of the Ivy League mountain has been anything but easy.

Critics point out his teams’ surprising inability to close the sale in some past seasons and his struggles with Harvard and Yale as indications of something missing in his program. Supporters point out he is young, smart and has brought a vision for the long haul.  He has developed a new culture and identity for Tiger basketball that bears his unmistakable imprint.

The Tigers’ 14-0 march through the 2016-17 Ivy schedule, making Henderson the odds-on favorite for Coach of the Year honors, tips the scales in favor of the supporters’ case.

Let’s take a closer look at what Henderson has done, particularly over the last three seasons as he put the building blocks of the current juggernaut in place.

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Princeton takes care of business at Brown, 66-51, stays undefeated in Ivy play

The Tigers dispatched the Brown Bears in Providence last night with a workman-like 66-51 effort to run their Ivy record to 10-0. The most noteworthy factor in this one was the reemergence of Pete Miller as a force at both ends of the court. The 6’10” senior saw his playing time decline precipitously in early February to single-digit minutes. Against the Bears, Miller was in the floor for 29 minutes while contributing 10 points and four rebounds.

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Princeton clinches Ivy League Tournament berth with 71-52 win at Yale

The Tigers became the first team to qualify for the Ivy League Tournament by defeating Yale, 71-52, on Friday in New Haven. Princeton’s ninth straight Ivy win (and 12th straight overall) was the first for Tiger skipper Mitch Henderson in John J. Lee Amphitheater.

Ray Curren, writing for NYC Buckets, described the game as a “complete performance” by the visitors and, indeed, it was.  Devin Cannady demonstrated why he is one of the deadliest “catch and shoot” guys in the country. He caught fire early and often. His 20 first-half points propelled the Tigers to a most unexpected nine-point cushion at the break, 38-29. For the evening, the Indiana sophomore tied his career high with 29, including a ridiculous 7-for-8 from long range.

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Princeton extends winning streak to 11 games

After a weekend sweep at home against Cornell and Columbia, the Tigers have now played every other team in the league, Penn twice. With a perfect 8-0 record, Princeton is clear of the second-place Harvard Crimson and Yale Bulldogs by two full games and is in control of the No. 1 seed in next month’s Ivy League Tournament. The Tigers are easily within the top 100 teams as ranked by KenPom and  Sagarin, while Harvard and Yale are outside. It is doubtful that either team will leapfrog the Tigers, even if one or both of them finish the regular season tied with Princeton. The top seed is crucial for the team that gets it. If it’s Princeton, that means Yale and Harvard will play each other in the tournament.

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Princeton grinds it out in key wins at Harvard and Dartmouth

After two very difficult road wins at Dartmouth and Harvard, the Princeton Tigers extended their winning streak to an impressive eight games, including five league contests to start down the road to the Palestra. The one consistent thread for the Tigers during this run has been rock-ribbed defense, anchored by sophomore guard Myles Stephens, who is building an All-Ivy caliber resume. A huge ingredient for the Tigers has been the senior leadership from Spencer Weisz and Steven Cook, without whose contributions a tough win at Dartmouth would have been even more difficult and an improbable comeback at Harvard impossible.

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Princeton turns back Yale, 65-58, sits atop Ivy League

Not since the glory days of the Penn-Princeton rivalry in the last century has a game of basketball in Jadwin Gym matched the intensity of last night’s win over the Yale Bulldogs. Whatever each team brought to the floor – and each is very talented – was left on the floor.

The defending Ivy champions arrived in Jadwin after taking down an improving Penn squad at the Palestra on Friday, barely a week after the Tigers struggled mightily with the Quakers at home.

James Jones coached the last Ivy team to beat the Tigers in Princeton and that was nearly two years ago. Since then he has won two Ivy titles, one outright, but lost Justin Sears, Brandon Sherrod and Makai Mason. Their replacements, Miye Oni, Jordan Bruner and Alex Copeland, may reach similar heights, but last night the finest defensive effort of the Mitch Henderson era held the Bulldogs at bay until Princeton’s offense came to life in the second half.

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Princeton hangs on to turn back Penn, 61-52

In his pregame analysis of the Penn-Princeton game last night at Jadwin Gym, IHO editor-in-chief Mike Tony opined that the key to a Tiger victory would be “winning the three-point game” and avoiding the late-game collapses that have plagued Princeton in the early going this season.

On its way to a gut-wrenching 61-52 win over the Quakers, the Tigers shot gaping holes through Mr. Tony’s argument. The victory was achieved on a night the Tigers shot an abysmal 3-for-19 (16 percent) from beyond the arc and despite the Quakers overcoming a 21-point second-half Tiger lead to draw even at 44, the only time the score was tied in the game.

This one defies rational analysis. The Tigers were outshot (40 to 35 percent) and were outscored by 12 on three-pointers. The 235th edition in this long-running rivalry is a memorable entry, if something less than an artistic success.

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