Princeton falters at Payne Whitney … again

Mitch Henderson fell to 2-6 all-time against Yale as Princeton's head coach Friday night in New Haven.
Mitch Henderson fell to 2-6 all-time against Yale as Princeton’s head coach Friday night in New Haven.

The Princeton brand took another body blow last night in New Haven, rekindling memories of the shocking collapse two seasons ago. At that time, the Tigers entered the final full weekend of the year needing a sweep to clinch another Ivy title or just one win to force a playoff with eventual winner Harvard. A shocking upset Friday night at Yale, followed by a listless walk-through at Brown the next night, sent the Tigers home with its season in tatters. That team voted to stay home in the postseason, turning down overtures from the CBI and CIT.

The stakes were not nearly as high this year as the Tigers embarked on the annual dogsled trip to New Haven and Providence. The young Tigers were aiming to leave a calling card at Payne Whitney, showing coach James Jones and the Bulldogs what they might have to face in the years to come.

If, in fact, that is what happened, you could not blame Jones if he let loose with a few guffaws after the dud Mitch Henderson lobbed his way.

In a pattern that has become distressingly familiar this season, the game began as many Tiger games do: both teams struggle to score early. Unlike the meeting at Jadwin two weeks ago Princeton got its offense in gear early, managing a lead at the half 35-32.

The energized Tigers stretched the lead to 47-39 after six minutes had expired in the second half. What followed can only be described as a total meltdown in nearly every respect.

The Tigers repeatedly sent the Bulldogs to the foul line (Yale made 27 free throws for the evening), once after an egregious backcourt turnover to avoid a breakaway layup. Realizing that Yale could not score while Princeton held the ball, the Tigers managed to eat up 35 seconds, evidently forgetting that this tactic would result in another turnover. Yale made good on it with an and-one layup at the other end, further eroding the precarious Tiger lead.

Over the final 13 minutes, the Bulldogs grabbed the Tigers by the neck and just would not let go, scoring 42 points to the Tigers’ 13. The play with the score tied at 53 is typical of the way things went for the Tigers. Freshman sensation Makai Mason found three-point specialist Jack Montague open in the left corner, who swiftly launched a long jumper to avoid the closing Tiger defender. The shot was away prior to the contact which sent Montague and the defender to the floor. Shot good, free throw good, Tiger defender on the floor with his face in his hands. Yale 57-Princeton 53, and the rout was on. Final score: 81-60.

Yale made more free throws than the Tigers shot, but Princeton missed 14 of the 26 attempts they were awarded.

Several Tiger fans confessed that they expected Yale to come back, that no lead was safe for this team. In four of the five Ivy losses the Tigers have managed late leads, only to come up short. Their play has been characterized by sloppy ball handling, poor rebounding, shaky shooting and too much fouling, dedcidely un-Princeton-like traits. For all that, third place was probably the realistic goal for this club at the outset of the campaign, and that remains well within their grasp, since the other contenders, Columbia and Cornell, must visit Jadwin next weekend. Columbia, perhaps still basking in its Yale memories, was jolted by Dartmouth last night at home. On the other hand, Cornell sent shockwaves through the League by notching Bill Courtney’s first win over Harvard in Ithaca. The home team was carried by IHO second-team All-Ivy pick Devin Cherry, with a little help from first-teamer Shonn Miller (24 points, 15 rebounds, 8-for-8 from the line).

But first, the Tigers visit the pesky Brown Bears in Providence, the scene of the 2013 debacle.

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