With a performance worthy of praise from even the most ardent Tiger fans, the Penn Quakers outlasted Princeton last night at The Palestra, 77-74, vaulting themselves into a tie for first place in the Ivy League in the process. Good for you, AQ. And good for you, Jerome Allen. The Penn faithful should cease calling for your job… at least for a while.
The Quakers established clear dominance inside right from the start, feeding Darien Nelson-Henry and Fran Dougherty again and again for relatively easy baskets. An early foul by Hans Brase sent him to the bench in favor of Pete Miller, who quickly drew two more, sending the coaching staff to their drawing boards. Penn continued to have its way through most of the first half, helped by the Tigers’ inability to convert their bread-and-butter three point shots.
I suppose I would be remiss if I did not comment on Saturday night’s game.
The Penn-Princeton rivalry is, and always has been, special. In fact, as I recall our games at both the Palestra and that drafty, geodesic aircraft hanger in New Jersey, my ears still ring. Saturday’s contest was indeed no exception in our shared history as the Quakers finally showed a flash of the kind of team that everyone (including me) thought they could, would, and should be. The Tigers are a decent team (I stop short of classifying them as “a good team” because, after all, it’s the Tigers), and Penn, along with the much-vilified Jerome Allen, should be congratulated for taking them down in exciting fashion. The Red & Blue somehow managed to do everything they hadn’t done during most of their brutal and disappointing non-conference schedule, namely: rebound (42-25), defend, and play a full 40 minutes of hoops. Still, they almost gave the game away by once again beating themselves with costly fouls and turnovers. Their bench play was also better but, in general, remained mostly invisible. Princeton, for their part, happened to have an off night from the three point line, a usual strength of their team, thus validating the axiom, “live by the three, die by the three.” Tonight, they died. [Ed. note: This is what’s possible when you shoot over half of your attempts from behind the arc– 50.7%, the highest percentage in the country– you are bound to have off nights like that.]
Princeton turned in a gritty performance on New Year’s Eve against the Golden Flashes of Kent State at Jadwin Gymnasium. Despite squandering a 15-point lead to trail by one inside the final minute, the Tigers held on 73-68 to run its surprising season record to 10-2. Kent State slipped to a respectable 9-4.
The Tigers won the game at the free throw line, making 29 of 40 while the Flashes managed just 14 of 22. Princeton enjoyed its greatest number of trips to the charity stripe in nine years.
Will Barrett led four Tigers in double-figures with 19, including 4 of 8 from behind the arc. Hans Brase (15 points to go with a team-high 9 rebounds), Ben Hazel (13) and TJ Bray (11) rounded out the Tigers’ balanced offensive display. Bray’s 5 assists moved him into sixth place on the Princeton career list, just nine behind Coach Henderson.
The teams were evenly matched in almost every statistical category other besides free throws. For the first time this season, Princeton was outscored from three point range in a game the Tigers won. Henderson was visibly relieved to survive a tough game in which his team was arguably outplayed at home. Neither team made a field goal in the final 4 minutes, but Princeton kept the Golden Flashes at bay by making the most of its numerous FT chances down the stretch. Henderson got ten players on the floor for significant minutes, a big factor in keeping his key players out of foul trouble.
Next up is a Saturday visit to Lynchburg, VA for an afternoon contest against the Liberty Flames, the final non-conference game for the Tigers before the Ivy opener at the Palestra on January 11.
As the calendar year winds to a close, let’s look back at some of the most exciting Ivy League basketball finishes in 2013.
February 2, 2013: Cornell over Penn, 71-69. Galal Cancer’s bank shot in the closing seconds lifted the Big Red to a big win in the Palestra.
February 2, 2013: Harvard over Brown, 89-82 2OT. On that same night, Harvard battled Brown through two thrilling overtimes at Lavietes. In regulation, Sean McGonagill’s jump shot with one second left completed a seven point comeback in the final 1:57. In the first OT, Steven Albrecht’s trey sent the game to a second extra period with just :20 on the clock. The Crimson grabbed the W behind Wes Saunders and Christian Webster’s efforts in the second OT.
March 8, 2013: Penn over Brown, 66-64. In a bizarre finish after Penn rallied from six down with two minutes left, Brown had a foul to give with 1.1 seconds left in a tie game. Steve Albrecht fouled Miles Cartwright immediately on receiving the inbounds, but Cartwright managed to draw the shooting foul by chucking the ball at the hoop. He sunk two of three with :00.7 on the clock to win it for Penn.
November 22, 2013: Siena over Cornell, 71-70. Up 10 with 3:54 to go, Bill Courtney picked up a technical foul and Siena went on a 10-1 run, completing their comeback with 6.5 seconds to play on a putback. Tarwater’s three missed at the buzzer as Cornell’s winless streak dragged on.
5. November 12, 2013: Manhattan over Columbia, 71-70.
Game Reset: The Lions led their NYC rival 70-67 as the clock dwindled under 10 seconds. Michael Alvarado’s pump fake got Maodo Lo in the air, earning the Jaspers three shots at the stripe with :4.0 to go. Alvarado’s first missed. His second was good. His third shot drew the back iron, and fell toward the left block. Emmy Andujar grabbed it and missed long on the putback, but George Beamon was on the weak side and his follow-up banked home as the buzzer and whistle sounded. Though it took some sorting out in the chaos, Beamon had tied the game while being fouled right at the buzzer. The officials put 0.5 seconds back on the clock, and Beamon stepped to the stripe and calmly drained the free throw for a 71-70 lead. Columbia’s desperation alley-oop to Luke Petrasek just missed and Manhattan escaped Levien with an unlikely victory.
There seem to be a few clear divisions within the league after six weeks of hoops. Princeton and Harvard has been the thrilling Ivy narrative thus far, with both teams on torrid runs to start the season. Many thought this would be a runaway title for the Crimson, but it’s great for Ivy supporters to see a second team step up the way the Tigers have. It certainly makes for an exciting conference slate (circle Jan. 31 and Feb. 22 on your calendars, folks).
There’s another tight battle going on in the middle of the league though, as Brown, Columbia, and Yale jockey for that 3rd position in the Ivy. This year, with up to six teams looking at the possibility of an over-.500 record, there will be something to play for below the title chase. Those middle-of-the-league contests promise to be pretty exciting as teams play for postseason berths in the NIT, CBI, and CIT.
Dartmouth and Penn have been slotted in the sixth and seventh slots, two teams that appear to be going in opposite directions.
And then there is Cornell, a team that is historically bad to the point that the 0-10 Tiny Red are owners of the worst defense in all of the 351-team Division I universe, conceding 1.198 points per possession, a far cry from the D-I average of 1.035 ppp.
Charles Klauder is a name probably unfamiliar to most Tiger fans, but his contributions to Tiger lore have been rich, indeed. The Philadelphia native was an early 20th century architect of particular renown for his work on college buildings, including the Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh and several of Princeton’s distinctive dining and residence halls. He also designed the sites of the two greatest comebacks in Tiger history: the 50-49 win at the Palestra in 1999 in which the Tigers trailed Penn 33-9 early in the second half, and Saturday’s 81-79 OT shocker at Rec Hall on the Penn State campus. The Nittany Lions have not used Rec Hall for men’s basketball since 1996, but invited the Tigers to join them in a nostalgic trip down memory lane. The memory of this one will live for a very long time.
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 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.
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.