Princeton’s offense lagging behind its defense so far

Mike Tony’s analysis of the Tigers’ season-opening win against Rider was straight from the DP’s “yes but…” prism through which anything about Tiger hoops is typically filtered: “ nice win but the Tigers have depth issues…” After watching Princeton’s woeful 17 percent first-half shooting in the first half against the A-10’s George Mason, one must acknowledge the painful accuracy of Mike’s observation.

At home against Rider none of Princeton’s starters came close to foul trouble (the Broncs shot just four free throws), which allowed Mitch Henderson to spread 90 percent of the minutes among six players. Last year’s Ivy Rookie of the Year Spencer Weisz and junior F-C Hans Brase held the Tigers together after Rider spurted to a nine-point second half lead. The 64-58 win was satisfying although not at all convincing. As Mike said, “A win is a win…”

Reality slapped the Tigers in the kisser at George Mason on Sunday afternoon. Princeton, undoubtedly aware that the Patriots had dropped their home opener to last year’s Ivy doormat Cornell on Friday, arrived in Fairfax with high expectations. Dreadful shooting and early foul trouble for freshman point guard Amir Bell exposed the Tigers’ depth problems in the first half, as the Patriots cruised to a lead as big as 17. The first half closed with the Tigers on the short end of a 32-19 score.

Things turned around in the second half, although Bell had little to do with it. He committed his fifth personal much too early, sending him to the bench after just 10 mostly ineffective minutes on the floor. Deploying their customary harassing defense and finding their shooting touch enabled the Tigers to claw back to within three points on two occasions. The Patriots, benefiting from two big shots at the end of the shot clock, held on to claim a hard-earned 63-60 victory and a split against the Ivy League to start the season.

Defense has been a strong point for the Tigers in both games. But they must find some offensive consistency, particularly in the backcourt. Hans Brase has exploded out of the blocks, averaging a double-double in scoring and rebounding. He is building an All-Ivy resume, as expected. Amir Bell has shown some tantalizing flashes of brilliance at the point, but he must stay on the floor to learn by doing, not by watching. The Tigers clearly miss senior forward Denton Koon, whose return from knee problems remains a huge question mark.

This week the Tigers renew their longest-running nonconference rivalry with a Wednesday visit to Lafayette. The Leopards always give the Tigers a scrap and surely will again as coach Fran O’Hanlon believes his team can contend for the Patriot League crown this season.