Princeton, down two starters vs. FDU, just keeps winning

Despite the tight-lipped suspension of TJ Bray and Jimmy Sherburne, Princeton dominated FDU on Saturday, moving to 6-1.
Despite the tight-lipped suspension of TJ Bray and Jimmy Sherburne, Princeton dominated FDU on Saturday, moving to 6-1.

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.

Send him out, Jerome?

Jerome Allen is suddenly on the hot seat in Philly after the Quakers' disappointing start and a changing of the guard in the Athletic Department at Penn.
Jerome Allen is suddenly on the hot seat in Philly after the Quakers’ disappointing start and a changing of the guard in the Athletic Department at Penn.

Thanks to the Big Ten Network, the TV transmission of the Quakers’ embarrassing blowout loss to Iowa should now be somewhere in the vicinity of the sun’s Oort Cloud, just a few hundred billion miles behind the transmission of their mostly noncompetitive loss to Penn State just a few days before. Courtesy of these electrometric waves moving at the speed of light, Penn’s hoops futility will now be preserved for eternity. There is apparently a reason why it is so quiet in space— as on Earth, nobody up there wants to see the kind of dysfunctional brand of basketball that the Quakers have been playing.

Last year, there were potential excuses aplenty as to why the team wasn’t winning and they were not at all unreasonable given the circumstances: the team was young, there was little depth, star players were injured, and most of the assistant coaches had left for other programs. On the other hand, this was supposed to be the year that Jerome finally put it all together with “his” guys. This was supposed to be the year the Quakers took that “next step” back to respectability. This was supposed to be the year they would once again challenge for the Ivy title. But instead of commensurate team growth and maturity what have we seen? The exact same thing as last year: too many turnovers, too many fouls, lackadaisical defense, bonehead passing, poor overall team play, terrible rebounding, wildly inconsistent scoring, far too much Henry Brooks, and most disturbing of all, the absolutely inexcusable apparent lack of desire.  Here are some of the post-game quotes following the loss to Lafayette, a formerly 0-5 team:

 “We need somebody that wants to defend, that’s all they want to do.”

“We just didn’t have the mentality for [rebounding] today… They imposed their will and we didn’t really show up. They did a great job on rebounds today.”

“We get a possession where there’s two guys locked in and the other three guys are out to lunch.”

I ask you: Are these the comments of a championship team? Better yet, are these the attributes of a championship team? Aside from the blowout win over Niagara (which at this point I consider to be nothing more than an aberration), a generally bad team aside from Antoine Mason, these remarks unfortunately have already become a recurring theme both last year and throughout this young season. Unlike his Ivy coaching colleagues namely, Messieurs Henderson, Martin and Smith for example,   Jerome is somehow not getting “the message” through to his now more seasoned charges.

Read moreSend him out, Jerome?

Tigers Snag Best Ivy Win of the Non-Con

Princeton is rolling after earning a Top 100 win on the road at Bucknell.
Princeton is rolling after earning a Top 100 win on the road at Bucknell thanks to TJ Bray and Hans Brase.

Princeton entered the last week of November riding the wave of its best start under Mitch Henderson, one possession at Butler away from opening the season at 4-0. T.J. Bray’s welcome return to the line-up promised to stabilize the rotation. Tests against two highly-respected coaches, George Mason’s Paul Hewitt and Bucknell’s Dave Paulsen, promised Henderson an opportunity to establish his team’s identity for the rest of the season.

Playing perhaps the best half of Princeton basketball in three years, the Tigers roared to a 40-23 lead at home against GMU. Hewitt made some smart adjustments during the intermission and his team overcame the deficit to force a tie inside of two minutes. But they never gained the lead, as the Tigers called upon Bray to make some big plays. He did, with a great feed to Hans Brase and a tough bucket of his own inside, as the Tigers held on 71-66. This was the kind of game Princeton had trouble finishing in previous seasons under Henderson. Bray earned his first career double-double, scoring 18 and dishing out 10 assists. Seven rebounds, for good measure, bolstered the senior’s impressive stat line. On to Lewisburg to end the November schedule.

Bucknell under Paulsen, has become something of a rivalry for the Tigers, matching two very competitive mid-major programs with a lot of pride and pedigree. Last year’s victory at Jadwin was the highlight of Princeton’s non-conference season and one of two wins the Tigers posted against NCAA Tournament entries. Although off to a slow start, the Bison came in ranked by Pomeroy about 30 places higher than the Tigers on Saturday. On Sunday, after the Tigers’ convincing 66-53 win, the teams essentially switched places in Ken Pomeroy’s list, the Tigers moving up to 73, while the Bison slipped to 105.

Read moreTigers Snag Best Ivy Win of the Non-Con

Checking in on…Brown

The Bears, despite their youth, have looked great so far this season. Will their soft non-conference schedule come back to bite them?
The Bears, despite their youth, have looked great so far this season. Will their soft non-conference schedule come back to bite them?

Today’s Ivy League update by our friends over at Big Apple Buckets inspired me to sit down and reflect on what’s been a very eventful, and ultimately positive beginning to the season for the Brown Bears. A few weeks ago, we knew that the fate of this team would depend largely on how game-ready the six freshmen would be.

The good news: The Bears have passed the eye-test. They have a balanced team with a very strong frontcourt and a star scorer in McGonagill who has been an offensive wizard thus far. Sporting an obscene offensive efficiency rating of 126.2, Professor McGonagill is clearly benefitting from the move to the 2, though he continues to bring the ball up the court quite often. Kuakumensah is back to his Defensive Player of the Year award-winning ways, pulling down rebounds and blocking shots at an elite national level. Foul trouble has plagued the sophomore too often though, and his minutes have suffered as a result. Rafael Maia continues his assault on the offensive glass, pulling in 18% of possible offensive rebounds. Most importantly, the freshmen are clearly talented and will only get better (though Norman Hobbie’s shooting will certainly regress a bit). The Bears have won three in a row on the road and they were an inch from beating Providence for a second straight year.

Read moreChecking in on…Brown

Princeton Wins Two, Bray Returns

T.J. Bray's much awaited return brought more positive news to the Tigers, who rolled in their two games this week.
T.J. Bray’s much awaited return brought more positive news to the Tigers, who rolled in their two games this week.

Princeton rebounded nicely from a tough loss at Butler to notch two wins this week. Shaking off first half doldrums against Lafayette at home, the Tigers managed an overtime win, 81-80, surviving the Leopards’ 11-2 run to close out regulation. The victory is significant since this was precisely the kind of game the Tigers could not finish in Henderson’s first two seasons. Denton Koon, the leading Tiger scorer coming in, shot a miserable 3-16 from the field. Good teams, though, find a way to win on their off nights.

The Tigers made a quick weekend trip to Houston for a Saturday afternoon contest against Ben Braun’s Rice Owls. Watching his team throw the ball away must make Braun wistful for his Pac 10 days. The Tigers, who led 60-35 at one point, made quick work of the Owls, cruising to a 70-56 victory. The game marked the return to action of floor general T.J. Bray, who showed little, if any, rust in 15 productive minutes. Bray’s availability and the Tigers’ lead gave Henderson an opportunity to employ every conceivable combination of players. Ben Hazel is building an impressive case for a place in the crowded Tiger backcourt, making big threes and snagging more than his share of rebounds. Freshman big man Peter Miller continues to improve as he adjusts to the pace of the college game.

Read morePrinceton Wins Two, Bray Returns

Quakers, Show Some Heart

A somber AQ takes Jerome to task for failing to instill some moxie into this year's Quaker gang.
A somber AQ takes Jerome to task for failing to instill some moxie into this year’s Quaker gang.

Dear Jerome,

As I sit here, trying to forget what I witnessed this afternoon, I have decided to give you the benefit of the doubt. After all, it’s a long season and your team has only played 3 games. Besides, any team can have a bad day. A day when there seems to be a lid on the basket, the defense falters and the floor leadership fails. That’s OK. I’ve seen enough basketball over the years to understand the capriciousness and vagaries of the sport. Still, as this young season unfolds, I wish to tell you that I am disturbed. Not just because of the rising number in the loss column and the equally unsettling lack of overall team growth, but because from where I stand, the 2014 Quakers are not at all lacking in overall talent. Nor are they lacking in numbers, physical size or, now, even experience. What disturbs me the most is their lack of one essential quality all winning athletic programs seem to possess—their lack of moxie. Moxie. A New England Indian word which is defined as: courage and aggressiveness; nerve. Also, skill; know-how

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Tigers’ Rally Falls Short at Hinkle

Denton Koon had a great day for Princeton, scoring a team-high 21 points, but he couldn't convert a game-tying look in the closing seconds.
Denton Koon had a great day for Princeton, scoring a team-high 21 points, but he couldn’t convert a game-tying look in the closing seconds.

After watching his Tigers compete over 40 minutes, displaying generous amounts of (sorry, AQ) moxie at both ends of Hinkle Fieldhouse, Mitch Henderson offered the obligatory “no such thing as moral victories” cliche. Nonsense, Coach. This visit to Butler, a 70-67 loss, accomplished everything for which Henderson could reasonably hope: a chance to beat a high quality opponent at their place and lots of minutes for seven players still learning about how to play with each other. Had they been a tad more effective from the FT line, Princeton might have come away with an upset win.

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Lions Lose Heartbreaker at the Buzzer

Columbia's recent streak of heartbreaking close losses continued on Tuesday night in a shocking last second defeat to Manhattan, 71-70.
Columbia’s recent streak of heartbreaking close losses continued on Tuesday night in a shocking last second defeat to Manhattan, 71-70.

In tonight’s battle for Manhattan’s basketball throne, one team’s misfortune became the other’s gain, as the Jaspers pulled out the stunning 71-70 victory at Levien Gymnasium.

The play that gave Manhattan a second life was a controversial foul call on Mike Alvarado’s desperation three-point attempt with 4 seconds to go, down 70-67. During the play, Alvarado leaned into Columbia defender Maodo Lo (8 points, 6 rebounds) and was granted the shooting foul despite Lo’s proper defense. Alvarado then went to the line for three shots, and the chance to tie the game at 70.

After missing the first and making the second to get Manhattan within 2 points, Alvarado appeared to intentionally miss the third. The rebound fell to a fortunate Jasper player whose errant putback fell just within the reach and leap of George Beamon. As he crashed to the floor, he laid it perfectly off the backboard and in, getting fouled in the process. Confidently, the 5th year senior stepped to the line and swished the free throw to take the one point lead, 71-70. But it wasn’t quite over yet.

Read moreLions Lose Heartbreaker at the Buzzer

Princeton Not Rattled By Florida A&M in Opener

Princeton cruised to a 67-50 season-opening victory against Florida A&M despite the absence of senior point guard TJ Bray.
Princeton cruised to a 67-50 season-opening victory against Florida A&M despite the absence of senior point guard TJ Bray.

Heading into Princeton’s season opener against FAMU, Mitch Henderson knew he had some holes to fill following the graduation of Ivy POY Ian Hummer. He did not expect, however, that one of them would be caused by T.J. Bray’s broken finger, which will shelf the All-Ivy candidate for at least a month. Meanwhile, the Rattlers arrived at Jadwin, still smarting from a tough loss Friday at Rutgers in which they threw 84 points at the Scarlet Knights only to lose by eight, determined to end their New Jersey weekend on a positive note.

Princeton responded with a trademark defensive performance, limiting the Rattlers to 50 points. Denton Koon, the 6’8″ junior forward, came off the bench to lead the Tigers in scoring (17) and rebounding (11), notching his first career double-double in a satisfying 67-50 win. 

Read morePrinceton Not Rattled By Florida A&M in Opener

Season Preview: Brown Bears

A dominant frontcourt and an all-league guard will lead the Bears into battle in 2013-14. Does Brown have the talent at the other two positions to compete this season?
A dominant frontcourt and an all-league guard will lead the Bears into battle in 2013-14. Does Brown have the talent at the other two positions to compete this season?
In 2012-13: 7-7, 13-15, 4th place, No Postseason.

A Look Back

In Coach Martin’s first season at the helm, the Bears overcame an unthinkable number of obstacles, playing at times with just seven healthy players, to finish top half for the first time since 2007-08. A dangerous and talented team when everyone was healthy (it was quite a rare occurrence), Brown seemed on the verge of something great in 2012-13. A thrilling final-minute comeback against crosstown rival Providence pushed the Bears to new heights as Tucker Halpern’s eighth three pointer splashed through the nylon in the final seconds, sending the Pizzatola Center into delirium and shock. They followed that up with a quality overtime victory over eventual MAAC champions, Niagara.

Once Ivy play came though, the short roster started to take its toll. Four of the Bears’ seven conference losses were in overtime or by one possession. Still, the players lifted one another up when someone had an off-night.

Against Columbia at the Pitz, Sean McGonagill, Stephen Albrecht, and Halpern combined to go 1-15 from the field for four total points, yet the Bears managed to eek out a win on the backs of Matt Sullivan (27 points, 5 steals) and Cedric Kuakumensah (19 points, 7 rebounds). Other nights, it was McGonagill carrying the load, like on Senior Night when the Bears pounded Princeton to clinch 4th place behind 24 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists from the sophomore point guard. Albrecht pitched in with 17 points and 5 rebounds despite a chronic back injury. It was perhaps the gutsiest .500 season in recent Ivy history.

Read moreSeason Preview: Brown Bears