Princeton completes momentous comeback over Iona in Brooklyn

For the second year in succession Princeton faced off against the Iona Gaels on a neutral court. Last season in Atlantic City, the Tigers overcame a double-digit Iona lead in the second half when then-freshman Drew Friberg  came off the bench to make three long-range bombs. Last night, at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, with Net-In-Waiting  Devin Cannady at courtside, the Tigers followed a similar script in even more dramatic fashion.

Once again Friberg came off the bench, this time to contribute a career-high 22 points, including six of nine from deep and 4-for-4 from the free throw line. Friberg, fellow sophomore Ethan Wright and junior Ryan Schwieger sparked the Tigers to overcome a 16-point deficit at the 13:30 mark of the second half, sending the game into overtime tied at 76 en route to an eventual 90-86 win.

Princeton (3-7) was sluggish at the start. The hot-shooting Gaels (2-4), who made eight of their first 10 shots, raced to a 10-0 lead. As usual, the Tigers depended upon the rugged Richmond Aririguzoh to keep Princeton within reach. RA and Friberg pulled the Tigers within four at 25-21 with seven minutes to go in the opening half. Princeton’s offense stalled at that point while the Gaels continued to shoot the lights out. At halftime Iona held a 42-30 lead, and looked like the MAAC favorites they are projected to be.

Iona shot 60% for the half, boosted in part by their taking mostly mid-range jumpers. In any event the Tigers once again fell short on the defensive end. Nine Tiger turnovers did not help, either.

Playing tough defense and continuing a blistering shooting pace the Gaels reached their biggest lead of the contest on a fastbreak basket by Asante Gist, 56-40, at the 13:30 mark. Five straight points from Schwieger cut it to 11. A Friberg rebound and a Morales steal both resulted in layups by Elijah Barnes, in the game because of RA’s foul jeopardy.

Settling down, the Gaels used 6 minutes to push the lead back to 11. Friberg then took over the game. Eight straight points over a minute and a half (two long threes and two free throws) drew the Tigers within three at 62-59. Somewhat rattled, the Gaels  were looking over their shoulders.

RA’s fifth foul allowed Iona to run the lead back to 5. It was gut check time for the Tigers. They had relied on the big guy for so much all season they dreaded the prospect of not finishing the job without him.

Henderson, forced to employ a small lineup, called on the sparkplug, Jose Morales, to keep the rally going.  Some  timely sharpshooting by Schwieger and Wright kept the Tigers within reach. With the ball, trailing by three, Friberg found a wide-open Morales beyond the arc. The big moment found the right guy. Morales nailed the three to tie the game at 69.

Seconds later, Jaelin Llewellyn made a great steal. When he converted the breakaway layup, Princeton had its first lead of the ball game, 71-69, with 1:59 on the clock.

Back came the Gaels. With free throw chances to retake the lead, Iona missed two of four. Instead of a lead, the Gaels managed only a tie at 71 with 1:02 remaining. A Llewellyn jumper gave the Tigers the lead but Asante Gist’s answering bucket tied the game once again with 21 seconds to go.

After a time out, the Tigers put the ball once again in Llewellyn’s hands to try to end it. He used most of the clock to get a good look, but when his shot missed the game went into an extra five-minute period.

One sensed that this Tiger team had reached a turning point. Since Schwieger’s return  from injury, the Tigers had a win at Bucknell, lost at Drexel, staged a nice comeback against Monmouth only to lose on a buzzer beating three, and dominated FDU in the second half to win by 15. Even without RA, the Tigers were loath to squander a tremendous comeback from 16 down.

Halfway through overtime, the Gaels held a three  point lead. A Llewellyn free throw and a statement dunk by Schwieger tied the game once again. After two Agee free throws, Drew Friberg canned another three, his sixth of the game, to give Princeton a lead it would not relinquish, 83-82, with 42 ticks left on the clock. Unable to get the needed hoop, Iona fouled and fouled again. The Tigers made seven of eight free throws in the last 21 seconds, including four for four by Morales. The sparkplug fired!!! At the buzzer, the Princeton held on 90-86. The Gaels are hoping they have seen the last of Drew Friberg.

Defensive issues aside the Tigers left  the Barclays Center feeling good about themselves. As a team Princeton shot 54% from the field (28-for-52) and a very respectable 39% from beyond the arc (11-for-28). Even better, Princeton made 23 of 26 from the charity stripe. The difference in the game came down to three point shooting.  Princeton made 11 to just four for the Gaels.

Five Tigers reached double figures: Friberg (22), Wright (16), Schwieger (16), RA (14) and Llewellyn (11).

Princeton will try to build on its recent momentum tomorrow night at Jadwin against Hofstra.