Jaelin Llewellyn shines as Princeton escapes Dartmouth with 65-62 win

The typically wild weekend road trip to Boston and Hanover is over, and the Tigers survived with one of their goals, a berth in Ivy Madness, well within their grasp. We may well look back on this trip as the time Jaelin Llewellyn’s total game was on display at an absolutely crucial juncture for his team. Recognizing the need to step up in the absence of Ryan Schwieger, Llewellyn courageously embraced the challenge and, to put it mildly, delivered.

On Friday at Harvard, Llewellyn almost single-handedly kept the Tigers in the game to the last seconds, leading the scoring with 22 points. If he has had a weakness this season, it has been his inefficiency from deep. He takes more three-pointers than anyone else, but came into the weekend converting an unacceptable 25%. His 21 points on Saturday night gave the Tigers the spark they needed, and included 5-for-7 from beyond the arc. The final score, 65-62 Princeton, tells very little about the game.

In Hanover, the Tigers did not know what to expect from Schwieger, who returned to the lineup, but in an obviously diminished capacity. They did know what to expect from the Big Green: a team riding the crest of a three-game winning streak at Leede and one that bore no resemblance to the team pounded by the Tigers three weeks ago in Jadwin.

To a man, the Tigers believed they had lost an opportunity on Friday, dropping a game they should have won. Not taking anything away from the Crimson’s toughness, they nevertheless blamed the loss on things they failed to do, rather than on Harvard’s execution. Realizing how important the visit to Hanover would be, Mitch Henderson was especially careful to prepare his club for the expected Saturday night struggle on the road.

Preparation paid off right away as the Tigers found the range early. When they shoot well, they win. When they don’t, the Tigers lose. It’s almost that simple. On this night the offense was very much in sync, especially through the first 30 minutes. The Tigers were a very efficient 24-for-53 from the field, highlighted by 11 made threes in 28 tries. Princeton compiled a healthy 14 assists on its 23 field goals.

Never trailing in the first half, the Tigers pushed the lead to 17, 33-17, at the 4:35 mark. Dartmouth stiffened, however. The Big Green closed the half on an 8-0 run, cutting the lead to 33-24.

Schwieger canned an encouraging early three but spent much of the evening on the bench. Drew Friberg took most of Schwieger’s minutes. He and the ever-reliable Richmond Aririguzoh each scored 10 points in the first half. For the Big Green, center Chris Knight had 10 points in just 12 minutes while Aaryn Rai, who was a thorn in Penn’s side Friday, was held to three points in 16 minutes. Rai spent the intermission sharpening his thorn.

For the first 10 minutes of the second period the Tigers managed to sustain a double-digit advantage, although their personal foul situation grew increasingly worrisome. Aririguzoh, in particular, struggled against Chris Knight and found himself on the bench with first three, and then four personals.

Knight began to score repeatedly in the paint. In Rai, he found a willing partner.  Two Rai free throws and a spin move in the paint cut the Tiger lead to eight, 47-39, just under the 10-minute mark. Tiger three-pointers by Llewellyn and Jerome Desrosiers restored a nine-point lead, 53-44, with 7:25 remaining.

The Big Green had a few more punches to throw. Three straight acrobatic moves by Rai cut the margin to 53-50. Two Taurus Samuels free throws made it a one-point game with plenty of time remaining.

Jaelin Llewellyn then canned perhaps the most important three of the season. Knight answered with a layup. Llewellyn then grabbed a rebound after a rare Rai miss. Aririguzoh converted in the paint. Llewellyn then rebounded a Big Green miss, setting up Schwieger’s second three of the evening. 61-54, 2:51 to go.

Coming off the canvas, Dartmouth landed three straight haymakers in the paint through the exhausted Tiger defense. 61-60, 1:31.

Knight’s fourth personal put Aririguzoh on the line. As he has done so many times, the Tiger war horse responded by canning both free throws. 63-60, 1:15.

By now both teams were running on fumes, resulting in a minute of empty possessions. Rai then struck again, in the paint, of course, drawing Dartmouth within one, 63-62, now down to the 18-second mark.

The Tigers called timeout to set up an inbounds play. Evidently, Henderson chose the wrong one. His club inexplicably failed to inbound the basketball within the allotted five seconds. The resulting change of possession gave Dartmouth the ball under its own hoop.

James Foye got an open look but misfired. Forced to foul, Dartmouth sent Drew Friberg, an 82% free throw shooter, to the line. Naturally, in this wacky one, Friberg’s first attempt missed everything. Dartmouth had the ball and another chance.

The Big Green got he ball to midcourt and called timeout to set up the inevitable play for Chris Knight.  Without the luxury of time Knight’s effort was stymied by Aririguzoh. Llewellyn grabbed the rebound and was fouled. He did not miss and the Tigers completed their escape, 65-62.

Knight, with 17, and Rai, with 14, combined for 31 of the Big Green’s 38 second-half tallies. For the Tigers, Llewellyn had 16, including a 4-for-5 clip from deep. No other Tiger had more than four. For his weekend of work, Llewellyn must be a strong candidate for Player of the Week honors.

The Tigers road trip worries continue next week at Brown and Yale. After this weekend, the Tigers can secure a tournament spot with a win and a Penn loss.