Princeton extends winning streak to 11 games

After a weekend sweep at home against Cornell and Columbia, the Tigers have now played every other team in the league, Penn twice. With a perfect 8-0 record, Princeton is clear of the second-place Harvard Crimson and Yale Bulldogs by two full games and is in control of the No. 1 seed in next month’s Ivy League Tournament. The Tigers are easily within the top 100 teams as ranked by KenPom and  Sagarin, while Harvard and Yale are outside. It is doubtful that either team will leapfrog the Tigers, even if one or both of them finish the regular season tied with Princeton. The top seed is crucial for the team that gets it. If it’s Princeton, that means Yale and Harvard will play each other in the tournament.

The biggest news for Tiger fans was not generated at Jadwin, where both visitors made strong bids for upsets, but rather at John J. Lee Amphitheater in New Haven, where Harvard snapped Yale’s 22-game home winning streak. Next week’s Princeton-Yale showdown lost just a little of its luster.

On Friday night, Cornell head coach and former Princeton standout player and assistant Brian Earl returned home to an appreciative greeting from his legion of Tiger fans. His wife Jen reported that her young children couldn’t understand why they could not sit in their “regular” seats. Meanwhile, their father was planning to make his homecoming something to remember. Ivy League scoring leader Matt Morgan spurred the Big Red to an early 14-13 lead, but an 11-point run by the Tigers helped establish a 10-point halftime lead for the home team.

If the Tigers were thinking blowout, the Big Red had other ideas. Seven minutes into the second period, Cornell had managed 16 points to the Tigers’ two. A 10-point Princeton lead was now a four-point Tigers deficit, 42-38. Cornell’s great guard tandem of Morgan and Robert Hatter were almost unstoppable in this run. For the game, Morgan canned 21, Hatter 18.

Never showing any sign of panic, Princeton finally reclaimed the lead, 49-47, on a Devin Cannady layup following a Pete Miller steal with about nine minutes to go. Thirty seconds later, Miller dropped a gorgeous feed to Spencer Weisz in the paint to give Princeton a four-point lead. The Tigers did not trail again. Cannady’s four free throws in the final minute extended the lead to 69-60 at the end.

Weisz continued his hot streak with 21 points and seven rebounds. Cannady and Myles Stephens each added 14. Defensively, the Tigers held Stone Gettings to eight points. Pete Miller emerged from Princeton coach Mitch Henderson’s doghouse to play 20 productive minutes, leading his team with four assists. Steven Cook reached the 1,000-point mark for his career early in the first half.

One suspects that Cornell’s basketball fortunes are clearly on the rise as the Brian Earl era continues.

Columbia arrived at Jadwin still reeling from surrendering Penn’s first win in the Ivy League this season. The dejected Lions stumbled through the first half while the Tigers’ jacked up offense raced to a 41-26 lead.

After five minutes of the second half, the hot-shooting (65 percent from the floor) Tigers were up by 20, 46-26. Inexplicably, the Tigers went ice cold, shooting 6-for-24 the rest of the way. The Lions, much to their credit, refused to give any more ground. Slowly, Columbia crept back within striking distance. With Princeton still up 13 at the five-minute mark, the Lions treated them like they were house cats, launching a 13-2 run to make the game a one-possession affair with just over a minute left.

A Tiger turnover gave the Lions a chance to tie or win with seven seconds remaining. The Tigers, with fouls to give, used them to take precious seconds off the clock. Columbia’s Jake Killingsworth missed from long range as the game ended. This was the second Saturday in a row in which the Tigers dodged a three-point bullet as time expired.

Steven Cook, who failed to score Tuesday against Penn, led Princeton with 19, including 5-for-7 from beyond the arc. Princeton enjoyed another great night from Myles Stephens, who scored 15. Cannady appears to have broken out of his recent shooting slump, as he reached double figures on both nights of the weekend.

A relieved Henderson said he was proud that his team responded very well to adversity on both nights: “You don’t enjoy being in these situations, but you find out a lot about yourself when you react to them positively. Good lessons going forward.”

Four of the Tigers’ remaining six games are on the road, starting with Yale and Brown next weekend.

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