Prior to the start of this afternoon’s game at Lafayette, Princeton coach Mitch Henderson was asked to assess his team’s 7-3 start to this season.
“If you told me we would win seven of the first 10, I would have been pleased, to say the least,” Henderson replied.
His team would reach 8-3 after dispatching Fran O’Hanlon’s Leopards, 81-63. Lafayette dropped to 2-8, including losses to Penn, Cornell, and the Tigers. Columbia’s woes are clearly shown by its loss at home to Lafayette, 73-50.
This game was valuable to the Tigers for several reasons, but none was more important than the fact that they would have to find a way to win without much offensive production from their go-to guy this season, Tosan Evbuomwan. When the opening tip was easily controlled by the Leopards’ Neal Quinn, a 7-foot junior from Allendale, N.J., Henderson realized that Evbuomwan might have his hands full with an opponent 4 feet taller and 40 pounds heavier.
For the first 10 minutes, neither team could gain much momentum. On the Tigers’ side, Evbuomwan was contained by Quinn and his backup, Chris Rubayo, a 6’ 10” first-year student also from New Jersey. Princeton would need to look elsewhere for its offensive punch on this day.
A Rubayo free throw at the 11:50 mark gave the Leopards a 15-14 lead. On the next possession, Max Johns, the senior guard/forward from North Carolina, nailed a beautiful three-pointer on an assist from Evbuomwan. Johns has seen his minutes increase of late, contributing to a rise in his confidence level. He can be a valuable bench option going forward.
The Johns score ignited an impressive Tiger rally over the next eight minutes, their best stretch with the ball so far. Only a Leopard free throw and a Tyrone Perry three spoiled the Tigers’ run which propelled them into a 39-19 lead with 3:26 to go in the first half.
A Lafayette flurry, fueled by six points from Quinn, cut the Princeton margin to 13, 41-28.
Henderson was more than satisfied with the Tigers’ defensive energy in the first period, which produced one its best outings of the season. The stat sheet sets forth a blueprint for what the Tigers must do on what we hope will be the rare occasion when the opponent is able to contain Evbuomwan. Led by Llewellyn’s 3-for-4 from deep, the Tigers canned eight of 17 attempts from long range. The Leopards made just two. While Evbuomwan was stymied, so was Ryan Langborg, the Tigers’ best pure shooter from beyond the arc. Langborg attempted one bomb, missed it, and was not a factor in 11 minutes. Six Tigers made at least one three-pointer in the half, including Evbuomwan. Princeton outrebounded the taller Leopards in the first 20 minutes, 21-13.
In the second period, Princeton continued its hot shooting from all over the court. After seven minutes, an Ethan Wright three-pointer pushed the lead to 23 at 64-41. Interestingly, Evbuomwan got the seventh of his game-high eight assists on the Wright bucket. The Tiger leader can help his club in more ways than scoring. It recalls the old saying that necessity is the mother of invention.
The Leopards were not yet ready to throw in the towel. O’Hanlon’s teams never do. Neal Quinn scored an old-fashioned three-point play with 8:42 to go, cutting the Tiger margin to 12. A deep three by Langborg, his second of the half, discouraged the Leopards. Two minutes later, Lafayette once again got within 11, but it would not close the gap any further.
Carried by two long-range bombs from Drew Friberg, Princeton once again pushed the lead to 21 with 3:22 remaining. Henderson emptied his bench.
The final was 84-73.
Several Tigers merit mention in this report. Ethan Wright led the team with 22 points, 11 in each half. He was 10-for-16 from the floor, grabbed five rebounds and handed out four assists. Evbuomwan was held to single-digit scoring for the first time in a month but accounted for eight assists and added seven rebounds to lead his team in both categories. Friberg shook off his recent doldrums, scoring 15 points, including 4-for-8 from deep. Floor general Jaelin Llewellyn had 13 points and only one turnover in 32+ minutes. Matt Allocco, the Ohio sophomore playing in his first season, turned in another excellent game coming off the bench. In 23 minutes, he picked up the Langborg slack, scoring eight points, including 2-for-2 from beyond the arc. The game turned on the Tigers’ proficiency in three-point shooting. Seven Tigers made 15 of 29, to the Leopards’ 4-for-14.
As a team, the Tigers had 36 rebounds to 27 for the Leopards.
The now 8-3 Tigers face a quick turnaround. They will entertain UMBC at 6 p.m. on Monday. They will then break for exams, with only a Division III tune-up against Kean before opening the Ivy League campaign on Jan. 2 at 2 p.m. at Harvard. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all from IHO.