Our Toothless Tiger recaps and reflects on Princeton picking up its first win of the 2017-18 season against Lafayette at Jadwin Gym Wednesday night.
PHILADELPHIA – The Tigers invaded the decidedly unfriendly confines of Hagan Arena on the otherwise welcoming campus of St. Joseph’s University on Saturday evening. Mitch Henderson continues his search for an effective rotation, realizing that his freshmen will need to undergo an ordeal by fire early in this new season.
He chose a veteran-laden starting lineup in Philadelphia, going with seniors Amir Bell, Alec Brennan and Mike LeBlanc, along with juniors Devin Cannady and Myles Stephens. Will Gladson, the 6’10” sophomore, missed his third game due to injury.
PRINCETON – The Tigers played a wild and weird game last night, opening its home schedule against BYU of the West Coast Conference. Having defeated Gonzaga in Spokane three times in three years, the Cougars were not likely to be intimidated by the hangar-like atmosphere of Jadwin Gym. They weren’t.
With 7:38 to go in the second half, the Cougars’ Zac Seljaas, perhaps the best outside shooter in BYU history, canned a long three to give his team a 48-43 lead, prompting Mitch Henderson to call a 30-second timeout.
The Tigers coach, for some reason not apparent to onlookers, went full Vesuvius on the officials. He was clearly bothered by his team’s treatment by the referees, a state of affairs he determined to be particularly galling at home. The nearest official found Henderson’s breach of decorum to be itself galling and worthy of two technical fouls, sending Henderson to the locker room and the Cougars’ best free-throw shooter, Elijah Bryant, to the line for four shots. Of course, he made all four, breaking open what had been a close, if somewhat sloppily played, contest.
For the first time in his career as coach of the Tigers, Mitch Henderson began the season with two freshmen in his starting lineup. The heralded arrival of Jerome Derosiers and Sebastian Much played out at Hinkle Fieldhouse, the Palestra of the Midwest, to decidedly mixed reviews. The Butler Bulldogs prevailed yesterday in the season opener for the Tigers, 85-75, in a very competitive contest before an announced crowd of 8,500. A third rookie, Ryan Schweiger, actually had the most playing time, 19 minutes, of any of the first-year players.
Although the Bulldogs controlled most of the game, taking a 10-point lead to the halftime locker room, the Tigers generated enough offense to stay in this one almost to the end. The Tigers closed the gap to a manageable four with 3:30 to go but couldn’t narrow the gap any further. Both teams shot extremely well, north of 50 percent, but the Bulldogs used their advantage on the glass to fire up 12 more shots than Princeton, making six more than their East Coast rivals.
Ivy Hoops Online’s George Clark (Toothless Tiger) catches up with Princeton coach Mitch Henderson, who in an in-depth interview reflects on the Tigers’ two pivotal turning points amid their undefeated Ivy 2016-17 campaign, explains why Princeton has enjoyed success in tight late-game situations the past couple of seasons, weighs in on why he’s still in favor of the Ivy League Tournament, previews the team’s incoming freshmen and makes a case for an eventual #2bidivy breakthrough:
If Tiger fans are reluctant to turn the page after last year’s historic run through the Ivy season and the first-ever Ivy Tournament, we can readily understand. After a so-so 4-6 start and the loss of two All-Ivy caliber starters, Princeton went on a 19-0 tear, including 16-0 in the Ivies, culminating in a championship and a berth in the NCAA’s March Madness. A close loss in the Big Dance to Notre Dame hardly diminished the accomplishments of a truly phenomenal season.
Tiger skipper Mitch Henderson has clearly come into his own, joining James Jones and Tommy Amaker as elite coaches, not only in the League, but in Division I. Having more than survived the loss of Hans Brase and Henry Caruso, the Tigers must figure out how to replace POY Spencer Weisz and fellow first team All-Ivy selection Steven Cook. It won’t be easy, and most handicappers pick the Tigers to finish no better than third behind Yale and Harvard in the coming campaign. Among Henderson’s strengths is his ability to recruit players who buy into his scheme right away. His teams are usually much more than the sum of their individual parts. As a result, the cupboard is hardly bare heading into the new season.
After a historic 2015-16 season that saw the Princeton women’s basketball team become the first Ivy League team to secure at at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, the team graduated four of its top rebounders, as well as 71 percent of its offense. Despite those huge losses, the Tigers were still projected for second place in the preseason Ivy media poll. With four new starters, including a first-year and a sophomore, as well as a schedule that had the squad facing 10 2017 postseason participants, the Orange and Black ended the year second in the conference’s regular season, runner-up in the Ivy Tournament and selected to the NIT Tournament. With another challenging schedule on tap for 2017-18, Princeton aims to improve upon its various records (16-14 overall, 9-5 Ivy, 6-7 nonconference and 5-10 vs postseason teams) to secure a return ticket to March Madness.
Heading into the 2016-17 season, many experts predicted that the Princeton Tigers would win the Ivy League title due to its senior leadership. It was hard to bet against a team that would be starting Spencer Weisz, Steven Cook, Hans Brase, and Henry Caruso. When Brase and Caruso went down with season-ending injuries early in 2016, there was cause for concern. A slow start from starting guard Amir Bell only added to the growing worries for the Tigers. However, the arrival of Devin Cannady and Myles Stephens into the starting lineup righted the ship and had the Tigers in great position heading into the Ivy schedule. With first-team All-Ivy performances from Weisz (Ivy League Player of the Year), Cook (IHO Player of the Year), and Stephens (Ivy and IHO Defensive Player of the Year), along with strong performances from Cannady (Ivy and IHO Honorable Mention) and Bell, Princeton ran through the league with a 14-0 record, winning the regular season title by four games over Harvard.
Some Wake Forest fans must have thought the Demon Deacons had Jaelin Llewellyn.
Llewellyn is a four-star ESPN recruit whose father Cordell played with Wake Forest, as well as Rhode Island.
But last month, Llewellyn chose Princeton over the likes of Wake Forest, Virginia, Purdue, Cincinnati, Florida and Ohio State, less than seven weeks after he gave an interview to Phenom Hoops Report in which he did not include Princeton in the 11 teams expressing strong interest in him (although he did include Harvard).
The Tigers that season went 25-3 and 13-1 in Ivy play, beating No. 2 UNC at fabled Carmichael Arena. They blew out the second-best Rutgers team ever, led by All-American Bob Lloyd and Jim Valvano, on the road and came within a hair of beating Carolina again, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, losing 78-70 in overtime, after beating West Virginia in the first round. They came back to blast a very strong St. John’s team in the Regional consolation game, rising as high as No. 3 in the polls and finished No. 5.