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.
A reputable source tells Ivy Hoops Online that Princeton senior forward Denton Koon suffered a MCL injury at practice on Thursday and is not expected to start the season. However, Koon is expected to be able to return prior to the start of conference play.
Koon played in just 18 games last year and was ruled out for the remainder of last season in February due to a knee injury. The knee that Koon injured at practice Thursday was not the same knee that was injured last season.
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.
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.
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.
In 2012-13: 17-11, 10-4, 2nd place, No Postseason.
A Look Back
Mitch Henderson’s third season at the Tigers’ helm will be his first outside the shadow of Sydney Johnson.
In his first campaign, Henderson enjoyed the services of Doug Davis, a Johnson recruit, whose last-second playoff heroics in his junior year stalled, if only momentarily, the Amaker juggernaut. The Tigers compiled a very respectable 20-12 overall record in 2011-12, Davis’ senior year, overcoming a disastrous start to the Ivy League season to finish in third place at 10-4. Davis graduated as the second leading career scorer for the Tigers, trailing only some skinny guy from the 1960’s.
Davis held that second spot for only eleven months until he was overtaken by 2012-13 Ivy POY Ian Hummer, the Tiger team leader in virtually every significant category last year. The Tigers managed an overall record of 17-11, including a 10-4 mark in the League, good enough for second place. But it was the way the Tigers finished second that has caused much head-scratching among the Tiger faithful.
On a night in which he passed Doug Davis to move into 2nd on the all-time scorers’ list in Princeton history, Ian Hummer took after his old teammate and refused to allow Harvard to walk away with the Ivy title in hand. With the game hanging in the balance in the final minutes, Hummer played with the desperate urgency of a senior who recognized the enormity of the moment. His put-back to take the lead, followed by a strong move to get position down low and get fouled were game-changers in the last two minutes, but Hummer brought the intensity from the tip. He had eight rebounds in the game’s first eight minutes and set the tone for his squad early on.