Another wild and wacky weekend in the Ivy League began for the Tigers in the recently friendly confines of Levien Gym at Columbia. The typical back and forth of the first half quickly gave way to a Tiger offensive outburst turning a close game into something of a rout. Spurred by super-sub Ben Hazel’s second-half heroics, the Tigers cruised to a relatively easy 74-62 victory. A Harvard win in New Haven on Saturday together with the anticipated Tiger success over a demoralized Cornell quintet reeling from Penn’s come-from-behind victory would create a three-way race for the Ivy title with Princeton very much a contender. The Crimson did their part, but the Tigers self-destructed in Ithaca.
PRINCETON, N.J. – The Tigers’ Saturday night win over a travel-weary Dartmouth squad made the weekend a qualified success. Last year’s 0-4 Ivy start squelched the Tigers’ title hopes, casting their 8-2 finish as a clear case of “too little, too late.” But at 2-1 now, Princeton’s destiny remains within its control.
A year ago, Harvard snapped a losing streak at Jadwin that reached back 23 seasons. The historic win, 59-47, was made even more impressive by the fact that senior three-point specialist Laurent Rivard was held scoreless for the only time in his distinguished career by the Tigers’ Rookie of the Year, Spencer Weisz. Rivard was on hand to watch his successor, Corbin Miller, come off the bench to torch the Tigers for 19 points including five three-pointers in the first half. Miller’s fireworks spurred the Crimson to a 39-29 lead at the half. Wesley Saunders, with a lot of help from Jonah Travis and Siyani Chambers, made the lead stand up in the hard-fought 75-72 Harvard win. Travis contributed 14 from the bench, giving the Crimson 33 from non-starters.
Last night’s renewal of the storied rivalry between the Tigers and Quakers was, in some respects, typical of the more memorable contests in a series which contains more than 200 editions. We saw an intense physical battle in which most every shot was bitterly contested and we saw one team overcome a huge second-half deficit to achieve an improbable win. But this game was lost by Penn, not won by the Tigers.
To the chagrin of the partisans of both squads this game established beyond much, if any, lingering doubt that neither belongs among the league’s elite quintets. I am sure that Mitch Henderson and his staff enjoyed the come-from-behind win over the Quakers for only a little while before the sobering reality of the game hit home. The Tigers struggled at home to beat a team whose lone “quality” win came at the expense of Navy. The Quakers managed to squander a late 15-point lead by some of the sloppiest play since Dartmouth threw away a seven-point lead in the last two minutes of regulation at Harvard last year resulting in an overtime loss.
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.
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.
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, as usual, is the conference wild card. No single star player. Several key components of last year’s CBI qualifying team gone, including T.J. Bray and Will Barrett. Few standout seniors. And today we reported that Denton Koon is out indefinitely with a MCL injury.
And yet, Princeton enjoys significant depth and a reliable frontcourt with 2013-14 Ivy Rookie of the Year Spencer Weisz and Hans Brase coming back. This doesn’t seem to be a very athletic roster, and I’m not as high on Princeton as others, especially now that Koon is out. But let’s start with the positives first. Even though Barrett made 111 treys as a junior and senior, his long-range production won’t be missed too much because, as you’ll read below, there are plenty of young guns on this team who can make up for that kind of sharpshooting.
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.
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.