Consistent with her strategic plan to challenge her team, Carla Berube squeezed in a very difficult matchup for the Tigers’ final out-of-conference game of the season. She invited to Jadwin Gym another group of Tigers, the Towson Tigers of the Colonial Athletic Association – a top 50 club nationally.
Towson, averaging 80 points per game, arrived at Jadwin on the crest of an eight-game winning streak and with an overall record of 11-1. The lone blemish on their record came against North Carolina State of the ACC, currently ranked fourth in the nation. The Drexel Dragons figure to challenge Towson for the CAA title. Towson skipper Diane Richardson, in her fifth season, believes Princeton and Drexel use similar styles of play. She wanted to give her club a preview of what to expect next week.
Her club learned how tough Berube’s Tigers can be in a 68-54 win for the home team.
Berube looked forward to testing her defense against the high-flying Towson offense. At the outset, Princeton played well at both ends, grabbing an early 12-5 lead. Any thoughts that the home team might enjoy an easy night were dispelled quickly when Towson was able to close the first quarter trailing by only three at 14-11.
The second period featured scoring runs by both squads. Towson showed how they manage to score 80 per game, using a 12-0 surge to take the lead, 23-18. Hardly flustered, Princeton struck back with eight straight. At halftime, the Princeton Tigers held the lead, but it was only two points, 27-25. It was clear that Princeton was frustrating Towson, making them play a half-court game. For Towson’s Tigers, it was their defense that was keeping them very much in the game.
Abby Meyers, with nine points, and Ellie Mitchell, with five rebounds, were both performing according to form for Princeton.
The third quarter played out differently than the first two. Neither team could get more than a four-point lead. The lead changed hands five times in the period. Towson outscored Princeton 15-14 but the home team maintained a one point lead, 41-40.
Ominously for Princeton, Ellie Mitchell and Grace Stone both entered the last period in serious foul trouble. Both would eventually be disqualified. Pressed into service and coming off her impressive performance against Cornell, the 6’5″ Parker Hill came from the bench to give Berube 12 quality minutes and six rebounds.
The fourth quarter belonged to sophomore and first-year player Kaitlyn Chen, from San Marino, Calif. One of the nation’s top-rated point guards two years ago, Chen was clearly number one on Berube’s list of recruits. She started the season as the first player off the bench and showed occasional flashes of brilliance. Accustomed to having the ball in her hands to create scoring opportunities off the dribble, Chen needed some time to adjust to Berube’s ball and player movement style of offense. She fits in quite effectively, thank you.
Berube put Chen into the starting lineup several games ago, using junior guard Maggie Connolly off the bench. Both players have been effective in new roles.
Perhaps setting the stage for Chen’s performance against Towson, she stepped up in a game-saving way in Princeton’s overtime win against Buffalo in December. Playing the overtime without three starters, Chen simply took over the game. Creating off the dribble because she had to, Chen responded with seven straight points to key a tough Princeton win.
Wednesday night against Towson, she did it again. Held to just two points in the first 30 minutes, Chen gave no hint of what was to come. In the first 4:27 of the final stanza, Chen sparked a 13-0 splurge to send the Tigers to a 54-42 lead. Back came Towson, cutting the lead to five, 56-51, with three minutes to go.
Chen then put the game out of reach with two straight hoops.
Forced to foul, Towson lost ground in the final minute as the Tigers from Princeton won the fourth quarter, 27-14, en route to the 68-54 victory.
Chen finished the game with 14 points. The shortest player on the court (5-foot-9) also grabbed five rebounds. Demonstrating how to succeed in Berube’s offense, she added a season-high seven assists.
Meyers scored a ho-hum 18 points, her season average. Julia Cunningham, who at one point was 2-for-11 from the field, notched 15 points. Mitchell continued to dominate the glass with nine rebounds.
In baseball, the cliché is that good pitching beats good hitting. So too in basketball defense can shut down a high-scoring offense. Towson was held 26 points below its season scoring average. Berube enjoyed a very satisfying evening.
Princeton goes on the road to take on Brown Saturday at 4 p.m. on ESPN+ and Penn Monday at 2 p.m. on ESPN+.