Princeton hangs on at Bucknell, 72-70

The Princeton Tigers, college basketball’s nomads, finally wrapped up the traveling portion of their preseason slate at the Sojka Pavilion on the campus of Bucknell last night. Needing a win against a tough opponent, the Tigers got it, grinding out another hang-on-at-the-end 72-70 decision against the perennial Patriot League contenders. It was the Bison’s first loss at home this season. Frankly, the game was not as close as the final score might suggest. This was an impressive performance by the Tigers.

After a sluggish start for both squads, featuring poor shooting and some careless ball handling, the home team led 14-12 at the 7:58 mark. Once again, the Tigers were plagued by a starter going to the bench with early foul trouble. Senior forward Pete Miller sat after two minutes. He did not return.

Sensing a rare opportunity on the Bison’s floor, the Tigers went to work over the final eight minutes. The Tigers (5-6) began to cash in on open looks and went to the glass with a sense of purpose. Bucknell (8-5) held the Tigers to one offensive rebound in the first 12 minutes, a problem for the Tigers without Brase and Caruso. In the next three minutes, Devin Cannady grabbed two, converting them into five points. Princeton’s 20-10 run closing out the half resulted in a 32-24 lead. The Tigers never trailed again.

Remarkably, 12 Tigers got on the floor during the first half, demonstrating clearly coach Mitch Henderson’s confidence up and down the bench. In truth, injuries to front-line players sent Henderson deep into the pantry in search of something, anything, to light a fire under his team. The cupboard, it turns out, is far from bare.

The most interesting move by far came as the Tigers began to turn the game around midway through the first half. Rather than expose Pete Miller to further foul trouble, an almost certain result of guarding the Bison’s mobile big man Nana Foulland, Henderson turned to freshman Richmond Aririguzoh, whose lanky 6’9”, 220-pound frame creates a physical presence just by showing up. Almost immediately, the public address announcer’s nightmare canned two big free throws. Obviously, the Tigers would not go down in this one without a clean knockout.

With a very active defense and some timely shooting, the Tigers created some separation through the second half. Princeton stretched the lead to 15 on a gorgeous Myles Stephens slam at the 11:38 mark. Three Tigers reached double figures, led by Devin Cannady’s 19 points. Steven Cook added 17, giving him 47 points in 48 hours this week. Stephens’ 10  was a helpful contribution.

Henderson’s frenetic substituting continued throughout the evening as Aaron Young, Mike LeBlanc and the aforementioned Aririguzoh accounted for 15 minutes of playing time. With less than two minutes to go, the Bison had been held to 55 points on their home court. Bucknell’s sharpshooters made some spectacular desperation threes near the end, including a 25-footer at the buzzer to bring them within two.

Spencer Weisz’s performance deserves special notice. He led the Tigers with 11 rebounds, an effort that enabled the Tigers to outrebound an opponent for the first time in a month. Weisz is now only the third player in Tiger history to reach 1,000 points, grab 500 rebounds and dish out 300 assists.

The other two: Tiger legends Kit Mueller and Ian Hummer.

After the Christmas break, the Tigers begin a five-game stretch at home with Hampton on December 28 at 5 p.m.