Princeton completes comeback over Iona

The Tigers squared off against the Iona Gaels at 11:30 a.m. this morning in a nearly empty arena on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, N.J. Fellow Ivy League member Columbia defeated Iona in a very close contest at Madison Square Garden last weekend. After a tough 85-81 victory the Tigers proved by transitive property, at the very least, that they can play with Columbia.,

If a nonconference contest is ever a “must win” game this was clearly the case for both teams. Iona (2-7) came in on a four-game losing streak, strange territory for the three-time defending Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) champions. The Tigers, at 4-4 but facing Duke and Arizona State later this month, needed to win a game in which they figured to have a chance.

Win they did, but just barely. If this were a game played in quarters, the story line would be that the Tigers won the first, the Gaels the second and third, while the Tigers rebounded to claim the fourth, and with it, the game.

Each team made 30 field goals and each made 13 threes. The Tigers made four more free throws (12 of 14), all in the second half.

Jaelin Llewellyn was even more impressive in his second collegiate game than he was in his debut. He and Devin Cannady scored 22 points apiece, 44 of Princeton’s 85. Llewellyn had an eye-popping eight assists, displaying a tremendous all-around game. Anyone watching him for the first time would never believe that he is a freshman. Cannady canned six threes to grab eighth place on the Tigers’ all-time scoring list. He seems to move up every night out.

Early on the Tigers appeared in complete control, taking a 13-point lead. The Gaels promptly went on a 19-5 run to claim a 31-30 lead at the break. The Tigers played poorly at the defensive end during this stretch, while Iona totally turned around its shooting woes from the first 15 minutes.

Princeton’s defensive issues persisted into the second half. A 15-0 run by the Gaels, in a five minute burst, broke a close game wide open. With 12 minutes to play Princeton trailed by 13, a 26-point turnaround by Iona in less than 20 minutes. Although Myles Stephens started very strongly, scoring six points in the first minute of, he was a nonfactor for much of the game, reverting to his less than stellar form of late.

A three-point play from the constantly improving Richmond Aririguzoh cut the Gaels’ lead to nine at the 9:40 mark. Coach Mitch Henderson went deep into his bench, sending freshman Drew Friberg into the game, replacing Myles Stephens.

This may be looked back upon as a turning point for the season. Friberg had not played since November and entered the game on an 0-for-10 streak from the field. Touted as a three-point specialist by Henderson, the young man had done little to support his reputation.

Certainly aware that fans from his home town of State College, Pa., were in the building to see Penn State play later this afternoon, Friberg was determined to show them what they were going to miss for the next four years. He also made his coach look like a genius. Enjoying himself as he mostly did in high school, Friberg tossed in three long-range bombs in the next seven minutes. His work, along with plenty of help from Cannady and Llewellyn, enabled the Tigers to reclaim the lead with 1:31 to go. Four Cannady free throws and one by Stephens kept the Gaels at bay.

Princeton had five players reach double figures, but it was Friberg’s nine-point explosion that lit the fire. Myles Stephens played 23 minutes, the fewest since early in his sophomore season when he was not a starter. Sebastian Much was a DNP. The continuing fine play from Jose Morales and RA has stabilized what appears to be the starting lineup (Cannady, Stephens, RA, Morales and Llewellyn) for the foreseeable future.

The Tigers now head to Durham for a Tuesday encounter with the No. 2-ranked Duke Blue Devils, another David vs. Goliath mismatch. The 6 p.m. contest will be televised nationally on ESPN2. Then Princeton will head north for a game at Lafayette on Friday.

1 thought on “Princeton completes comeback over Iona”

  1. With about 7 or 8 minutes to go in the second half, the Tigers had precisely zero bench points. Then Devin Cannady took a blow to the head (an elbow?) and had to leave the game,. At that point it certainly looked as though the Tigers were sunk. Enter Drew Friberg. He hit a quick three and then two more and suddenly Princeton had life. His late contributions were nothing short of heroic. Without his spark, there is no way Princeton would have won this game. But as exhilarating as it was to watch the Tigers pull out the win, this game once again exposed the weakness of our defense. Iona fell behind early because they were cold and missed shots, not because we defended them. The open shots were there for Iona all game long and once they started making them, they were able to take control of the game. We did get a few big stops down the stretch thanks to some timely steals and a great defensive stand by RA in the final minute. Llewelyn was brilliant all game long and absolutely deserved the MVP award he received at the conclusion of the game. Cannady was also terrific, as usual. Overall, it was really fun to watch the Tigers rally and beat an opponent that is certainly better than its records suggests. To be sure, this Princeton squad has flaws, but with the addition of Llewelyn to the lineup, we may be able to surprise some teams, especially if our role players can find ways to contribute.

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