Princeton routs Lipscomb, Amir Bell steps up

The Tigers got what they needed last night at Jadwin: a struggling team on the road. The lopsided matchup resulted in a 77-54 Princeton win in a game dominated by the home team almost from the first tap. Senior designated shooter Clay Wilson had a holiday party for himself, canning five three-pointers and four free throws for a game and career high 19 points.

Amir Bell, the Tigers’ heralded freshman point guard, played perhaps his best overall game, leading the Tigers in minutes played (34) and assists (five), while adding 11 points and two steals. Best of all, he kept his personal fouls to a manageable three. Many observers believe Bell may hold the key to the Tigers’ success in league play, especially if he can continue to score in double figures every night.

One ominous note – senior captain Denton Koon was not on the bench, although nothing official has been released by the basketball office. An October knee injury sidelined the versatile 6-foot-8 Missouri native whose status going forward is now doubtful at best.

The Tigers put out the welcome mat for Liberty on Monday evening before taking a break for Christmas.

Princeton can’t hang on at California

Princeton played its best half of the season at California Saturday evening, shooting a sizzling 62 percent from the field, including 8-for-14 from three-point range, to lead 37-28 at intermission.

The second half was far more typical of the Tigers’ season, however, as the Golden Bears stepped up the defensive pressure and unleashed NBA prospect Tyrone Wallace, who scored 20 of his game-high 23 points after the break. The game was closer than the final score (67-57) suggests.

Terrific ball movement gave the Tigers numerous open shots early in the game. Four different players accounted for the first seven shots, all good, giving the Tigers a lead that reached 11 points.

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The Ivy League isn’t struggling, but Princeton is

Mitch Henderson is looking to right the ship for the 3-7 Tigers. (ivyleaguedigitalnetwork.com)
Mitch Henderson is looking to right the ship for the 3-7 Tigers. (ivyleaguedigitalnetwork.com)

Princeton turned a nine-point first-half lead into a 14-point deficit at the end of last night’s clunker in Jersey City. Desi Washington, the Peacocks’ leading scorer, returned after missing eight games due to a wrist injury. Washington dominated this one, scoring 18 to lead both teams in the 60-46 St. Peter’s victory. Although tied at the half at 25, the Peacocks (4-6) seized control early in the second stanza in what must have been an eerie reminder to the Tigers (3-7) of their second half meltdown last week at FDU. The Tigers now face their second West Coast trip in less two weeks as they head to Berkeley to face California this weekend. Probably won’t be a happy flight … in either direction.

Read moreThe Ivy League isn’t struggling, but Princeton is

Steven Cook leads Princeton past Stony Brook

Steven Cook notched 28 points and seven steals in a pull-away victory over Stony Brook. (ivyleaguedigitalnetwork.com)
Steven Cook notched 28 points and seven steals in a pull-away victory over Stony Brook. (ivyleaguedigitalnetwork.com)

PRINCETON, N.J. – On a night when the Ivy League generally beat up on the America East Conference, Princeton did its part, besting the Stony Brook Seawolves at Jadwin in the Tigers’ return home after almost two weeks on the road. A little home cooking was just what the Tigers needed, especially after Wednesday’s disaster Fairleigh Dickinson.

The storyline for Saturday, a come-from-behind 77-64 victory, starts with a formula developed when we began to keep score in basketball:  Find the guy with the hot hand and keep getting him the ball. Steven Cook, the rangy Tiger sophomore from Winnetka, Ill., was that guy.

Cook scored a career-high 28 points, doubling his previous best, shooting 5-for-7 from three point territory. He added an impressive seven steals, mostly from the top of the Tigers’ 1-3-1 zone, a total exceeded only one time in the last 40 seasons.

Read moreSteven Cook leads Princeton past Stony Brook

Princeton’s defense is desperate for a turnaround

“You are what your record says you are.” – Bill Parcells

Princeton’s record says “we are not very good.”

Unable to hold an eight-point lead at the half last night at Fairleigh Dickinson, the Tigers surrendered an unfathomable 64 second-half points, losing to the Knights, 89-85. In one eight-minute stretch in the second period, the teams combined for 29 points, 25 of which were entered in FDU’s ledger.

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Princeton makes progress on the West Coast

Although the Tigers went 1-2 in the Wooden Legacy tournament, Mitch Henderson believes his young team made progress on the West Coast trip.

“[Freshman point guard] Amir Bell is settling into the position, showing a better understanding of what we expect from him and getting more comfortable in each game,” Henderson said.

Bell’s work in the tournament earned him Ivy Rookie of the Week recognition in Big Apple Buckets’ Ivy weekly roundup. The rapidly maturing freshman, cast as “the heir apparent to T. J. Bray,” averaged 11 points per game in Anaheim and, impressively, committed only one turnover in the three games. Henderson said that he was pleased with how freshman center Alec Brennan responded while getting significant minutes in the Golden State. Sophomore Henry Caruso from San Mateo, Cal., came off the bench in each game to spark several Tiger rallies. His 15 points in 20 minutes against UTEP in the opener on Thanksgiving afternoon led all Tigers.

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Incarnate who? – Princeton disappoints as Penn impresses

Coach Mitch Henderson's Tigers need to cohere defensively as the season progresses.
Coach Mitch Henderson’s Tigers need to cohere defensively as the season progresses.

November 23 may be remembered as a watershed date in the basketball seasons of the Princeton Tigers and the Penn Quakers.

After witnessing Lafayette’s smackdown of the Tigers just four days earlier on a night Princeton turned in its best half of offense so far this year, one felt safe predicting the Leopards would continue Penn’s dizzying slide into oblivion last evening. To the contrary, Penn’s tenacious performance in almost overcoming a 17-point deficit may have taught the Quakers they can play. Princeton’s underwhelming effort against the University of the Incarnate Word (you can’t make this up) may be a staggering blow to the Tigers’ already fragile psyche.

Read moreIncarnate who? – Princeton disappoints as Penn impresses

Princeton basketball fell to Lafayette, but hey, Lafayette’s pretty good

Princeton’s visit to the beautifully renovated Kirby Sports Center on the tree-studded campus of Lafayette University last night was marred by the frosty reception awaiting the Tigers. The players stepped off the bus into a cold, blustery night far more typical of a Pennsylvania January than mid-November. The arena was warmer, but no more hospitable for the young and still struggling Tigers.

For the first time this season, Mitch Henderson’s offense ran smoothly and efficiently from the outset through the initial 20-minute period. Princeton’s 44 points was easily its highest output for any half so far, more than doubling its 19-point total in the first stanza at George Mason two days earlier. The Tigers posted a fantastic 60 percent shooting mark (14-for-23) including a deadly 70 percent (9-for-13) from behind the arc.

Unfortunately, by rule, possession of the ball goes to the opponent after Tiger scores. Showing disdain for the Tigers’ defensive history, the Leopards veteran team outshot the Tigers (68 percent, 71 percent from three), canning a stunning 47 first-half points. Quite easy to understand why Fran O’Hanlon is so bullish on his chances for a postseason run this year.

Tiger fans, grateful to be within reach at the intermission, took some solace in the unlikelihood that the Leopards could keep it up for the whole game. The Tiger fans were right: Lafayette “cooled off” with only 36 in the second period. Not to worry, Fran. Princeton could manage only 22. The only issue in the last 10 minutes was the eventual margin. It was 17 as the Leopards came away with an impressive 83-66 win. Of Lafayette’s total of 83 points, the starting five accounted for 82, as all of them reached double figures. This is a solid team, indeed.

Read morePrinceton basketball fell to Lafayette, but hey, Lafayette’s pretty good

Princeton’s offense lagging behind its defense so far

Mike Tony’s analysis of the Tigers’ season-opening win against Rider was straight from the DP’s “yes but…” prism through which anything about Tiger hoops is typically filtered: “ nice win but the Tigers have depth issues…” After watching Princeton’s woeful 17 percent first-half shooting in the first half against the A-10’s George Mason, one must acknowledge the painful accuracy of Mike’s observation.

At home against Rider none of Princeton’s starters came close to foul trouble (the Broncs shot just four free throws), which allowed Mitch Henderson to spread 90 percent of the minutes among six players. Last year’s Ivy Rookie of the Year Spencer Weisz and junior F-C Hans Brase held the Tigers together after Rider spurted to a nine-point second half lead. The 64-58 win was satisfying although not at all convincing. As Mike said, “A win is a win…”

Reality slapped the Tigers in the kisser at George Mason on Sunday afternoon. Princeton, undoubtedly aware that the Patriots had dropped their home opener to last year’s Ivy doormat Cornell on Friday, arrived in Fairfax with high expectations. Dreadful shooting and early foul trouble for freshman point guard Amir Bell exposed the Tigers’ depth problems in the first half, as the Patriots cruised to a lead as big as 17. The first half closed with the Tigers on the short end of a 32-19 score.

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Princeton 2014-15 Season Preview

The fourth year of the Mitch Henderson era opened on a high note in August when the Tigers’ skipper was declared one of the Top 10 Coaches Under 40 by Bleacher Report. Posting a winning percentage over .640 earns a lot of respect in the coaching fraternity. But Henderson’s 2013-14 mark of 21-9 fails to soothe the sting of an 8-6 Ivy mark, which left the Tigers in a third place tie. In an improving League Henderson may be hard-pressed to improve.

Read morePrinceton 2014-15 Season Preview