The Princeton Tigers concluded a very busy opening week of the new season tonight, entertaining the Red Foxes of Marist and coach John Dunne. It was the fourth contest for coach Mitch Henderson’s club in eight days. Tiger fans will remember Dunne from his days at St. Peter’s whom he coached in a game played at Dillon Gym, the only time the old gym was used for Division I men in over 50 years.
Princeton expected an exciting game. Marist lost its season opener in overtime against American, which is coached by former Tiger Mike Brennan, On November 12, the Foxes thrashed Ivy foe Columbia by 15.
The Tigers put together their best outing thus far, administering a sound beating to the visitors, 80-61. Although the Tigers (3-1) posted four players in double figures the real story tonight was written at the defensive end. Princeton’s harassing swarms, featuring a lot of doubling down low was reminiscent of the 2017 Ivy champions. The Foxes (1-2) were forced to settle for a lot of uncomfortable shots. For the evening Marist shot 36% from the floor and 30% from deep. These percentages were higher in the second half when the outcome was no longer in doubt.
At the half the Tigers led, 42-27.
The player of the game was junior Ryan Langborg, the West Coast sharpshooter. Langborg came off the bench to go 5-for-6 from the field and 4-for-5 from beyond the arc, demonstrating a gorgeous shooting form. He did his work in 26 minutes of action.
Henderson disclosed after the game that his team has been dealing with a cold and flu virus (non COVID) for about a week. Freshman Mason Hooks was in some distress at Asheville after starting the season opener. Captain Jaelin Llewellyn spent yesterday in bed but apparently enjoyed the rest. Llewellyn was the leading scorer for the Tigers with 17 and spearheaded the defense in his 30 minutes.
Ethan Wright was once again the Tigers’ leading rebounder with 8 and was a very efficient 5-for-7 from the floor. He accounted for 15 tallies in 29 minutes of play.
The most encouraging development for the Tigers was the enthusiastic play of Keeshawn Kellman, the 6’8” 240-pound behemoth from Allentown, Pa. Kellman got his first career start tonight after suffering from some well-documented ankle woes earlier in the year. He was limited in his ability to practice at full speed in October. When you see him on the floor you can’t help but think of Zion Williamson. In Kellman’s 11 minutes, he played like Zion, making all five of his shots, including a highlight reel slam dunk and grabbed four rebounds. Henderson said postgame that he’s never had a chance to coach a player like Kellman, noting that his presence on the floor changes the dynamics of the game.
Henderson believes that the frontcourt is not the question mark it might have been after losing Richmond Aririguzoh, Ryan Schwieger and Jerome Desrosiers from 2020. A healthy Kellman, Tosan Evbuomwan and first-year players Hooks and Zach Martini give him a lot of flexibility along the baseline.
He is also pleased with the way his shooters, Drew Friberg, Wright and Langborg have stepped up to share the scoring duties. And, of course, Llewellyn is clearly the floor leader and top scoring contributor.
The Tiger skipper once again used more than a dozen players and a dizzying number of combinations. In truth, they all contributed positively. When asked if he would like to narrow the rotation to perhaps eight players for the Ivy season, Henderson diplomatically declined to take the bait. He stated that all his players want to get on the floor and he will continue to use as many as he can. It’s an enviable situation to have as a coach, and it certainly boosts the morale of the players.
The Tigers will find themselves punching above their weight when they return to action Sunday afternoon against Oregon State of the Pac-12. It will be their third power-five conference foe in five games.
Tip-off will be at 3 p.m. EST on the Pac-12 Network.