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.
Princeton’s up-and-down season continued its enigmatic pattern with another split at home, beginning with a lackluster 67-57 win over Dartmouth, followed by an historic loss at the hands of the Harvard Crimson, 59-47.
Princeton’s lost Ivy League season reached its mid-point this weekend with a tough battle at Brown on Friday, resulting in a rare road win, and an even tougher struggle at Yale, the next evening, resulting in a heartbreaking OT loss, 66-65. The Tigers’ record is a disappointing 2-5, better only than Dartmouth, where the Tigers also lost in overtime, and Cornell.
T.J. Bray hoisted the Tigers on his broad shoulders this week, scoring 46 points on the road, vaulting his name into the center of the POY discussion. In his head-to-head confrontation with Brown’s All-Ivy candidate, Sean McGonagill, Bray emerged the clear winner. His 26 points led all scorers, while McGonagill managed a respectable 16, but shot only 4-15 from the field.
Another disappointing weekend for Princeton’s Tigers, this time at home. Trying desperately to shake off the effects of a disastrous 0-3 start to the Ivy campaign, Princeton relished the prospect of entertaining Columbia, which hadn’t won at Jadwin in 20 years, and Cornell, the Ivy cellar dweller.
Against the Lions, Hans Brase got off to another fast start, leading the Tigers to an eight point lead at intermission, 33-25, as order appeared restored in the Princeton universe. The euphoria proved to be nothing more than a mirage, however, as the Tigers’ woes in the Ivy League continued. The gritty Alex Rosenberg, although not shooting particularly well, kept the Lions in the game by getting to the line and converting 8-8 on the evening.
Princeton’s title aspirations for the 2013-14 campaign were dashed once again by the University’s antiquated tradition of January “Reading Period” and its three week mid-season forced hiatus. A 700 mile bus trip to Cambridge and Hanover is hardly the way to shake off the cobwebs. Princeton’s 0-3 start is much more than a thorn in its paw. This Tiger is hurting.
Sadly, this weekend, Princeton squandered career scoring nights from its senior warriors, T. J. Bray (26 against Harvard) and Will Barrett (28 at Dartmouth). The Tigers embarked on the trip as the stingiest team with the ball in D1. A Penn-like plethora of turnovers, 33 in the two games, rendered a staggering blow to the reeling fortunes of the men from Old Nassau. Seventeen games in and Mitch Henderson is searching for answers to questions he never expected to be asked.
With a performance worthy of praise from even the most ardent Tiger fans, the Penn Quakers outlasted Princeton last night at The Palestra, 77-74, vaulting themselves into a tie for first place in the Ivy League in the process. Good for you, AQ. And good for you, Jerome Allen. The Penn faithful should cease calling for your job… at least for a while.
The Quakers established clear dominance inside right from the start, feeding Darien Nelson-Henry and Fran Dougherty again and again for relatively easy baskets. An early foul by Hans Brase sent him to the bench in favor of Pete Miller, who quickly drew two more, sending the coaching staff to their drawing boards. Penn continued to have its way through most of the first half, helped by the Tigers’ inability to convert their bread-and-butter three point shots.
Princeton turned in a gritty performance on New Year’s Eve against the Golden Flashes of Kent State at Jadwin Gymnasium. Despite squandering a 15-point lead to trail by one inside the final minute, the Tigers held on 73-68 to run its surprising season record to 10-2. Kent State slipped to a respectable 9-4.
The Tigers won the game at the free throw line, making 29 of 40 while the Flashes managed just 14 of 22. Princeton enjoyed its greatest number of trips to the charity stripe in nine years.
Will Barrett led four Tigers in double-figures with 19, including 4 of 8 from behind the arc. Hans Brase (15 points to go with a team-high 9 rebounds), Ben Hazel (13) and TJ Bray (11) rounded out the Tigers’ balanced offensive display. Bray’s 5 assists moved him into sixth place on the Princeton career list, just nine behind Coach Henderson.
The teams were evenly matched in almost every statistical category other besides free throws. For the first time this season, Princeton was outscored from three point range in a game the Tigers won. Henderson was visibly relieved to survive a tough game in which his team was arguably outplayed at home. Neither team made a field goal in the final 4 minutes, but Princeton kept the Golden Flashes at bay by making the most of its numerous FT chances down the stretch. Henderson got ten players on the floor for significant minutes, a big factor in keeping his key players out of foul trouble.
Next up is a Saturday visit to Lynchburg, VA for an afternoon contest against the Liberty Flames, the final non-conference game for the Tigers before the Ivy opener at the Palestra on January 11.
Charles Klauder is a name probably unfamiliar to most Tiger fans, but his contributions to Tiger lore have been rich, indeed. The Philadelphia native was an early 20th century architect of particular renown for his work on college buildings, including the Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh and several of Princeton’s distinctive dining and residence halls. He also designed the sites of the two greatest comebacks in Tiger history: the 50-49 win at the Palestra in 1999 in which the Tigers trailed Penn 33-9 early in the second half, and Saturday’s 81-79 OT shocker at Rec Hall on the Penn State campus. The Nittany Lions have not used Rec Hall for men’s basketball since 1996, but invited the Tigers to join them in a nostalgic trip down memory lane. The memory of this one will live for a very long time.
Princeton remains a long-shot to win the Ivy League crown but, after last night’s convincing win against cross-state rival Rutgers, 78-73 at The RAC, the Tigers have compiled a strong case to claim the Championship of New Jersey. Mitch Henderson’s squad has reached #70 in the Pomeroy Ratings, a long way behind Harvard’s #28, but higher than any Tiger quintet has reached under the Pomeroy system.
To find a key statistic to explain the Tigers 7-1 start, one need look no further than the 3-point shooting numbers. As a team Princeton is shooting 40% from behind the arc, led by TJ Bray at 52% and center Hans Brase with an eye-popping 13-29 (45%) mark. The Tigers have made 49 more 3’s than their opponents in 8 games, or an average of 18 points per game!
TJ Bray had another huge game against Rutgers, after a one-game suspension, with 23 points including 5-7 from downtown. Three other Tigers, Denton Koon, the increasingly reliable Ben Hazel, and sophomore Hans Brase, each contributed 14 points in the Tigers’ balanced attack. As a team Princeton canned 16 threes, their most against a D-I opponent in more than a decade.
The Scarlet Knights shot the ball very well (29-58), but were frustrated by the Tigers’ ball-control offense and ability to hold their own on the glass against the Rutgers’ bigs. Myles Mack did the most damage for the Knights with his typical 21 points and flashy floor game.
Another talented and very athletic team awaits the Tigers on Saturday at Rec Hall in State College, PA. Penn State, representing college basketball’s Goliath conference, the Big Ten, rolls out the red carpet for David of the Ivy League. A competitive performance for the Tigers in this one will boost their confidence before heading to Las Vegas for two games in something called the “South Point Holiday Classic.”
The Tigers went into Saturday night’s intra-state match-up with Fairleigh Dickinson far more concerned about who was not available to play than who was. A late first half surge, sparked by Ben Hazel’s three to give the Tigers a 9 point lead, helped Princeton overcome hot-shooting Sydney Sanders, Jr. and the Knights, 77-55, in what became a bench-clearing laugher.
Tiger highlights included a game-high 18 points from junior Denton Koon, clearly emerging from recent shooting woes, and the first career double-double for freshman Spencer Weisz, who canned 17 while grabbing 10 rebounds. He earned Ivy Rookie of the Week honors for his performance. As a team, Princeton continued to find the range from behind the arc, making 11-28, a 39% rate, while yielding a stingy 3-15 to FDU. The much taller Tigers outrebounded the quicker Knights, 43-28, 15 of which came at the offensive end.
But the big story in Jadwin was the absence of starters TJ Bray and Jimmy Sherburne, due to unspecified violations of “team rules.” Speculation raged, as might be imagined. Toothless Tiger is confident in reporting that Bray’s suspension is limited to one game, while Sherburne will be forced to miss next week’s games at Rutgers and Penn State. Questions regarding the nature of the infractions, the involvement of the NCAA in the investigation, and the manner in which the matter came to the attention of the athletic administration remain unanswered at this time. AD Gary Walters was present last night but observed the game from a remote location, far from the media.
Mitch Henderson was obviously relieved after the game that the depth and versatility of his team was demonstrated again. Freshman Peter Miller got a lot of minutes, particularly after Hans Brase picked up his second personal foul early in the first half. He is not yet a viable option in the post, but he is getting there. Ben Hazel played another steady game in the backcourt and senior Will Barrett gave Henderson his typical workmanlike performance, despite some foul trouble of his own. The night belonged to Koon and Weisz, however, who stepped up at a time when the team needed a big lift. The Tigers, at 6-1, are off to their best start in 15 years.