The final regular season game followed a great storyline. One of my favorite coaches spurred his team to its best offensive showing of the season, 60% shooting from the field, 64% from deep, five players in double figures and 85 points in a win. The problem for me is the favorite coach is Brian Earl, skipper of the Cornell Big Red, who masterminded a terrific game plan in the 85-82 Cornell victory.
The mood in Jadwin Gymnasium last evening as the Tigers squared off against the Columbia Lions was different than usual, almost subdued. Perhaps it was the miserable weather, or perhaps it was the prospect of a meaningless game against the cellar-dwelling Lions.
In reality, the distracted atmosphere in the building was the product of the minute-by-minute developing story of the nationwide spread of the coronavirus, which has now reached the east coast and central New Jersey.
The Ivy League launched the 2019-20 campaign with an impressive 5-2 men’s record on opening night, highlighted by Penn’s nail-biter at Alabama, 81-80. (Dartmouth was idle.)
The evening’s lowlight occurred at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, where the Tigers collapsed in the second half, losing to A-10 foe Duquesne, 94-67.
I attended the University of Virginia during the Barry Parkhill era, earning a law degree in 1972. Needless to say I was elated when my “borrowed heroes” captured the Cavaliers’ first national championship. Their “worst to first” turnaround brought to mind the Miracle Mets’ run to the World Series in 1969 while I was in Charlottesville.
It is time, however, to return my attention to my real heroes, the Princeton Tigers, the season just concluded and the prospects for the future.
The Tigers entered their annual three-week winter exam break riding an emotional wave. Five straight wins following the expected wipeout at Duke, including two stunning wins over Big 5 champion Penn, catapulted the Tigers to the top of the Ivy heap at 2-0. Princeton coach Mitch Henderson hoped that the layoff would not impact the Tigers’ momentum facing the first two back-to-backs on the road.
The Tigers returned to Madison Square Garden for the first time since 2000 to play the St. John’s Red Storm in the Holiday Festival. For decades, the Holiday Festival was the premier event of the preseason, played between Christmas and New Year’s, employing an actual tournament format.
The final in 1964 was one of the most memorable games in that entire season, matching Bill Bradley’s Tigers against Cazzie Russell’s Michigan Wolverines. Bradley canned 41 before fouling out with the Tigers holding a 12-point lead. The five-minute ovation he received was unmatched in Garden history. Alas, the Wolverines fought back, winning 80-78.
In Dec. 1997, Princeton beat Drexel and Niagara to win the Festival title on its way to a 27-2 record and an eighth-place national ranking in the final AP poll of that season. Current Princeton coach Mitch Henderson was a Tiger co-captain.
Princeton did not expect its second straight contest against an A-10 foe to go as well as the first. St. Joseph’s, picked preseason number 2 in the conference and winner of three straight versus the Tigers, promised much stiffer competition than the 13th-ranked George Washington Colonials.
Princeton’s expectations were fulfilled.
Phil Martelli’s club, behind Lamarr Kimble’s 22-point second-half explosion, raced past the Tigers, 92-82, Wednesday in an intensely fought and entertaining battle.
On the most consequential night of the still young Ivy League season, the Tigers did their part by extending their modest winning streak to three games. Although their effort will be overshadowed by Cornell’s near-miss at Syracuse in the Boeheim Bowl and Yale’s big win at Miami, the Tigers’ play against the A10’s George Washington deserves some recognition.
Princeton won, 73-52, but the final score is a misleading indicator of the proceedings. The outcome was very much in doubt after 12 minutes of play in the second half. While Princeton held single-digit leads through much of the game, the Colonials “hung around,” as we say, appearing poised to make a run at any time.
The Tigers’ second Division I tilt, a home contest against Fairleigh Dickinson Wednesday, ended in a depressingly similar way to last week’s game at Lehigh.
Princeton held a 56-53 advantage at the 9:12 mark of the second period. The Tigers would not lead again. FDU went on a 20-7 run over the next eight minutes, coasting home with a convincing 77-66 road win. Tiger skipper Mitch Henderson alluded to the game as a “second punch in the face” for his club, per the Trentonian. For the second year in a row, the Knights have outscored the Tigers by 15 in the second stanza, although last year’s 22-point halftime advantage saved the Tigers.
The game started promisingly for Princeton, as Devin Cannady returned to the starting lineup, appearing to have recovered completely from what was described as a “high hamstring pull.” Cannady hit his first four threes from NBA range. His 15 points sent the home team into the locker room with a 34-30 lead.
Editor’s note: Our George Clark (Toothless Tiger) recently caught up with Princeton coach Mitch Henderson, who thoughtfully weighed in on Princeton basketball’s 2018-19 outlook, comparing the 2016-17 Tigers who went 16-0 in league play with last year’s 5-9 Princeton squad, previewing the program’s promising sophomore class, reflecting on rookie Jaelin Llewellyn living up to the hype, looking for Princeton’s defense to improve despite losing 2018 Ivy Defensive Player of the Year Amir Bell, explaining why Princeton and Penn are playing back-to-back in January this year … and much more: