The Tigers’ 79-61 defeat of the Columbia Lions last night was the hardest-fought “blowout” I have ever seen.
The Lions, arriving at Jadwin after a stunning upset at The Palestra, had their sights set upon the rare road sweep of what used to be known as “The Killer Ps.” The back-and-forth play in the first half indicated the winner of this game was going to earn it.
With about a minute and a half to go in the first half, a long three from Jerome Desrosiers, the Tigers’ sixth of the opening period, broke a 29-29 tie. Fifteen seconds later, a Desrosiers steal resulted in two free throws by freshman Max Johns, sending the Tigers into intermission leading, 34-29. Princeton coach Mitch Henderson liked what he was seeing on both ends of the floor but knew he was in another typical Ivy League scrap.
Columbia’s gritty first-half performance was led, unsurprisingly, by All-Ivy candidate Gabe Stefanini.
Stefanini had 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting from the field, including 2-for-2 from beyond the arc.
The other early key for the Lions was Patrick Tape’s handling of Richmond Aririguzoh (RA). Tape, one of the few Ivy centers who matches up well with RA physically, held his opponent scoreless for the half.
For the Tigers, aside from RA’s goose egg, six players reached the scoring column, all with either five, six or seven points. Five different players accounted for the six threes posted by the home team. Ethan Wright, a freshman, canned two.
Aside from the Tigers’ 6-3 margin in made threes, the adversaries were essentially equal in all other statistical categories.
A RA layup early in the second half, his only score of the evening, gave the Tigers a five-point margin, 36-31. Three minutes in, he committed his fourth personal foul, sending him to the bench, in jeopardy of fouling out for the fourth time this season.
Desrosiers was assigned the task of containing Tape, and the smaller man gave a good accounting of himself. The Tigers slowly but inexorably extended their advantage. The lead reached eight on two Desrosiers free throws at 17:05. Four minutes later, a Desrosiers three pushed the Tiger lead to 48-38.
It is time to mention Ryan Schwieger. After posting a career-high 23 points the previous evening, the sophomore entered the game taking Devin Cannady’s spot in the lineup for the fourth time this season in Ivy play. It is no coincidence the Tigers would conclude the evening at 4-0 without their wayward star.
A Schwieger three gave the Tigers a 54-50 lead, the largest of the game, with 11:06 to go. Stefanini and Tape got the Lions back to 10 down, 58-48, with eight minutes remaining. A layup and one by Myles Stephens settled the matter for all intents and purposes with 7:39 left on the clock, but hostilities continued.
Ethan Wright hit a huge three after a terrific pass by Jaelin Llewellyn, making it 66-50 with 6:14 to go.
The Lions had one punch left, cutting the deficit to 11 with five minutes left. A Schwieger breakaway dunk, followed quickly by another three-pointer on an assist from Myles Stephens, extended the lead to 76-59. For the game, Schwieger went 4-for-4 from deep. Henderson emptied his bench.
After the game, Henderson and Desrosiers fielded questions from the media. The Tigers skipper pointed to his team’s 12-for-26 outing from deep as the crucial statistic.
“We’ve been waiting for the dam to break since Ivy play began,” Henderson said. “I can’t explain all the misses but I know these kids can shoot. Tonight they proved it to me and, I hope, to themselves.”
Desrosiers’ 14 points and 10 rebounds gave him his second career double-double in as many nights. When asked about defending Tape, he related how strong and agile he found the Lion big man. But, he said, “I got a block on him early and that gave me a lot of confidence. I think I can defend anyone.” Tape had 15 points and eight rebounds but was not a big factor in the second half.
Myles Stephens added 15 points on 5-for-10 shooting from the field. He was, as usual, assigned the toughest job on defense, guarding Stefanini. He held the Lions’ sharpshooter to six points in the second half, a vital contribution to the win. Stefanini managed just two three-point attempts, both in the first half. He made them.
Schwieger made eight of 11 shots, leading all scorers with 20 points, reaching that mystical threshold for the second time in his young career.
Three point shooting told the story of this game. Six different Tigers accounted for the 12 made threes. The Lions were held to just 15 attempts and made four.
Jaelin Llewellyn had another tough shooting night, going 3-for-14, but, in a team-high 36 minutes on the floor, and while handling the ball on virtually every possession, he had zero turnovers. Henderson produced a satisfied smile when that stat was mentioned to him after the game.
It appears that the Tigers may have punched their ticket to Ivy Madness, but they can’t take anything for granted. Of their four remaining games, three are against teams that have notched wins against the Tigers this season. The fourth is against Dartmouth, whom they defeated in a 69-68 street fight at Jadwin. At 8-2, Yale is a game ahead of Harvard and Princeton in the Ivy standings. The Tigers understand that they will have to beat both of them to win the tournament title and a berth in the NCAA’s version of March Madness. The game at Harvard Friday and the season-ender at home against Yale on Mar. 10 offer chances to make statements heading into the tourney. Much more than pride is at stake in these final two weeks.