Steven Cook leads Princeton past Stony Brook

Steven Cook notched 28 points and seven steals in a pull-away victory over Stony Brook. (
Steven Cook notched 28 points and seven steals in a pull-away victory over Stony Brook. (

PRINCETON, N.J. – On a night when the Ivy League generally beat up on the America East Conference, Princeton did its part, besting the Stony Brook Seawolves at Jadwin in the Tigers’ return home after almost two weeks on the road. A little home cooking was just what the Tigers needed, especially after Wednesday’s disaster Fairleigh Dickinson.

The storyline for Saturday, a come-from-behind 77-64 victory, starts with a formula developed when we began to keep score in basketball:  Find the guy with the hot hand and keep getting him the ball. Steven Cook, the rangy Tiger sophomore from Winnetka, Ill., was that guy.

Cook scored a career-high 28 points, doubling his previous best, shooting 5-for-7 from three point territory. He added an impressive seven steals, mostly from the top of the Tigers’ 1-3-1 zone, a total exceeded only one time in the last 40 seasons.

A second, and perhaps equally compelling storyline, was Henderson’s use of that stifling 1-3-1 zone, which clearly befuddled the Seawolves, leading to turnovers and numerous unfortunate shot selections.

The first half saw each team searching for and finding its offensive rhythm. The Tigers led at the end of the stanza, 38-36. Princeton’s propensity to allow its opponents to shoot greater than 40 percent from beyond the arc continued in the first period yesterday, as Stony Brook shot a blistering 62 percent. Henderson was grateful to have the lead, but no one knew what to expect in the second half, given the Tigers’ recent up and down performances.

Princeton got off to a positive start, extending its lead to a modest five points, 43-38, two minutes into the second period. For the next six minutes, the Tigers felt they were at FDU again. The Seawolves engineered a nightmarish 14-1 run to seize the lead. At the 9:21 mark, Stony Brook led, 55-46. Several Princeton fans were seen covering their eyes, afraid to watch another promising start go down the drain.

But then a surprising thing happened. For the next three-plus minutes, the harassing 1-3-1 zone began to yield fruit. At the other end Cook and senior three-point specialist Clay Wilson hit some very timely bombs to pull the Tigers back into the game. None was more important than Wilson’s mortar shot with six minutes left, vaulting the Tigers into a 57-55 lead. A most improbable comeback was complete. The Tigers would not trail again. At the conclusion, the Tigers could look back with total satisfaction at their last 10 minutes of work, having outscored the Seawolves 31-9!

Cook, counted on to replace the injured Denton Koon, struggled to an uneven start this season. Not seeing much action until the Ivy season last year, Cook was a huge surprise to Henderson and his staff, arguably impacting the Tigers’ league campaign as much as classmate Spencer Weisz, former Ivy Rookie of the Year. Cook’s tremendous wingspan and athleticism make him a natural fit at the top of the 1-3-1. He is able to disrupt passing lanes and pester the ball handlers, resulting in shorter shot clocks and, as in yesterday’s game, some bad shots. In a total reversal of form, the Tigers allowed a stingy 10 percent shooting clip from beyond the arc in the second half while making six of their 12 tries from long range.

The Tigers managed the win without much help from either Spencer Weisz or Amir Bell, although the duo did split eight assists. Bell once again fouled out after 30 minutes, benching himself down the stretch. Clay Wilson, on the other hand, continued his recent hot streak, contributing 13 points in 23 minutes.

The Tigers hit the road again Wednesday, traveling to Jersey City for an 8:00 p.m. meeting with in-state rival St. Peter’s.