I attended the University of Virginia during the Barry Parkhill era, earning a law degree in 1972. Needless to say I was elated when my “borrowed heroes” captured the Cavaliers’ first national championship. Their “worst to first” turnaround brought to mind the Miracle Mets’ run to the World Series in 1969 while I was in Charlottesville.
It is time, however, to return my attention to my real heroes, the Princeton Tigers, the season just concluded and the prospects for the future.
The Tigers’ 79-61 defeat of the Columbia Lions last night was the hardest-fought “blowout” I have ever seen.
The Lions, arriving at Jadwin after a stunning upset at The Palestra, had their sights set upon the rare road sweep of what used to be known as “The Killer Ps.” The back-and-forth play in the first half indicated the winner of this game was going to earn it.
With about a minute and a half to go in the first half, a long three from Jerome Desrosiers, the Tigers’ sixth of the opening period, broke a 29-29 tie. Fifteen seconds later, a Desrosiers steal resulted in two free throws by freshman Max Johns, sending the Tigers into intermission leading, 34-29. Princeton coach Mitch Henderson liked what he was seeing on both ends of the floor but knew he was in another typical Ivy League scrap.
As a followup to Mike Tony’s excellent summary of last night’s Ivy League skirmishes, I offer some takeaways from the Tigers’ hard-fought win against Cornell at Jadwin Gym.
Richmond Aririguzoh (RA) turned in a season-best performance in Ithaca, scoring 20 points without a miss from the field in an overtime thriller. In a pregame conversation, Mitch Henderson was effusive in his praise for the Trenton product, stating flatly that he considers the 6’9″ junior the league’s best at his position.
Brian Earl was determined to prevent a repeat of the first game. He deployed two and sometimes three defenders on the big fellow. As a result RA was held to seven points, although he did corral eight rebounds. Earl won that battle but lost the war.
The Tigers entered their annual three-week winter exam break riding an emotional wave. Five straight wins following the expected wipeout at Duke, including two stunning wins over Big 5 champion Penn, catapulted the Tigers to the top of the Ivy heap at 2-0. Princeton coach Mitch Henderson hoped that the layoff would not impact the Tigers’ momentum facing the first two back-to-backs on the road.
Princeton’s customary post-holiday exam break normally passes quietly and uneventfully for the men’s and women’s basketball teams as the Tigers play no games for more than two weeks while the rest of the college basketball world shifts into high gear for conference play.
This year, a stunning development marred the exam break with the news that senior co-captain Devin Cannady had been suspended from the team for a violation of team rules. The University has remained tight-lipped about Cannady’s status, making no announcements about when or whether Cannady will return to the team. In what perhaps is an indication that the Princeton sharpshooter may be allowed to return to the team at some point this season, Cannady sat on the team bench during Princeton’s return to action on Sunday against Division III opponent Wesley College of Delaware.
On an afternoon when the University of Pennsylvania honored the 1978-1979 Final Four team, the present-day Quakers played more like the 2014-15 squad in a 62-53 defeat to their arch rivals from Princeton. In another game of sloppy offense and tenacious defense from both sides, the Tigers (9-5, 2-0 Ivy) prevailed on the strength of their rebounding and free throw shooting.
An AJ Brodeur jump shot in the paint capped a 12-1 Penn (10-6, 0-2) run, giving the Red & Blue a 20-10 lead with 6:55 left in the first half. The lid then seemed to close for the rest of the half for the Quakers as the Tigers bounced back with two 6-0 runs to finish the half tied at 27.
A few weeks ago, thoughts of an Ivy League championship seemed wholly unrealistic. After an exhibition win over Division III DeSales, the Tigers opened their Division I season inauspiciously with double-digit losses at Lehigh and at home against Farleigh Dickinson. Princeton’s prospects brightened after three straight wins over Monmouth, Maine and George Washington; however, both Monmouth and Maine were winless when Princeton played them, and George Washington was 1-6 when the Colonials invaded Jadwin Gym.
Another pair of double-digit losses to St. Joseph’s and St. John’s suggested that Princeton hadn’t cured its defensive woes of a season ago when the Tigers allowed nearly 72 points per game, worst in the Ivy League. Then the Tigers suffered their most lopsided loss in program history, when the Duke Blue Devils thrashed Princeton by an astonishing 51 points at Cameron Indoor Stadium in a nationally televised game.
Saturday’s Penn-Princeton doubleheader at Jadwin Gym was full of highs and lows for both Ps, as the two games featured a combined 12 lead changes (seven for the men, five for the women) and a split for each school.
The much anticipated debut of freshman Jaelin Llewellyn at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 9 lifted the spirits of Tiger fans somewhat. A solid win against Iona on a neutral court, featuring another star turn by Llewellyn, pushed the expectations meter upward. Except the Duke Blue Devils were next on the schedule. The loss was anticipated; the 51-point annihilation was not. Princeton coach Mitch Henderson was concerned that such a beating might inflict lasting psychological damage.
When the Tigers escaped Lafayette three nights later with a narrow win, a month after Penn had defeated the Leopards by 30, Henderson’s concern was hardly relieved. Injuries continued to mount. Myles Stephens, Devin Cannady and Llewellyn were all helped from the court in Easton, although all thankfully returned to the game.
Then Princeton’s final out-of-conference opponent, the Arizona State Sun Devils, defeated No. 1 Kansas in Tempe. Could the Tigers’ prospects get any worse? Yes, they could.