Postgame audio - Coach Mitch Henderson, Douglas Davis & Brendan Connolly:
There was more drama as to if Saturday night’s game would actually take place than in regards to what the result would be.
Delayed 34 minutes by a malfunctioning backboard stanchion and non-synching shot clocks, Princeton took the lead for good with under eight minutes to go in the first half on a Patrick Saunders three pointer and methodically pulled away to go up 10 on Douglas Davis’ righty drive prior to the horn.
When play resumed the Tigers ran off nine straight and cruised to the finish, shooting 64.5% from the floor in the second half. The Bears did not score over the final 5:23.
With no answer by shorthanded Brown for 6’11″ Brendan Connolly inside, the junior center was in control throughout scoring 14 points and handing out six assists along with seven rebounds in 22 minutes of play. Davis added 12 in his penultimate Ivy game and fellow co-captain Patrick Saunders did the same.
“Because he’s running and establishing early position in the post, I think the guys are really looking for him,” head coach Mitch Henderson said of Connolly’s play. “It is such an advantage for us when we can throw the ball in to a center.”
Saunders is shooting 9-12 from three point range the past four contests.
Between Friday’s win over Yale and the later start the next night against Brown the floor at Jadwin Gym was covered with wrestling mats for the EIWA Championships. Both baskets were moved behind the bleachers and were not re-installed until around 90 minutes before tip.
When setting up the southern backboard, it was noticed that a bolt had come loose and could not be properly tightened. So, out went the usual bucket and in came a single piece unit from the 1980s off a side court.
However, when that was eventually set up it proved impossible to get the shot clock above each backboard to properly sync. Another lengthy delay followed full of scrambling on and off the hardwood as a pair of temporary yellow countdown clocks were stationed on card tables on the northwest and southwest corners of the court.
While Princeton waited patiently, Brown continued to shoot around at the only end of the gym set up for a game. T.J. Bray ran his team through some “shadow ball” drills before both sides retired to their locker rooms.
Finally the game clock was reset to 12:00 and the countdown to action was on to an adjusted 8:04 pm ET start time.
Off the opening tip, the Tigers attempted to surprise the Bears in the same manner they pounced on Cornell by pushing forward but Connolly slapping the ball ahead could not be saved by Bray after a deflection over the baseline.
Dockery Walker at Saunders did not convert off glass and Connolly inside had an easy time going left on Walker for the night’s first basket. Walker also lost the ball on his team’s second possession as Connolly poked it free and Walker stepped out of bounds trying to save.
Saunders posting was unable to finish a scoop to his left and Matt Sullivan tied the game with a right elbow jumper.
Following misses on each end from behind the arc, Connolly took a diagonal pass from Ian Hummer and waited for Walker to sail by before laying the ball home.
Connolly’s teammates were looking to set him up early and often.
“When you see that size advantage you’ve got to take advantage of it,” Davis said.
Sullivan’s right baseline jumper came over Hummer attempting to close and the score was even a second time.
Connolly out of the post passed to where a cutting Hummer had been and Sullivan continued his one man show by slipping and then squaring on the right side.
Hummer to his right rolled off the rim and Connolly grabbed the offensive board and went back up, fouled by John Schmidt.
Brown coach Jesse Agel had sent the somewhat larger than most of his other teammates Schmidt – second from the bottom with 1.1 points per game for the Bears – in to try and counteract Connolly’s size. The result was three personals in 71 seconds.
Connolly made both free throws to even both the scoreboard and his scoring battle with Sullivan, 6-6.
Senior guard Jean Harris went to his left and pulled up for a jumper, offset by Hummer flashing to the free throw line and going up immediately with a pass by a posting Darrow.
Tyler Ponticelli was able to scoop around Mack Darrow for two before Denton Koon in the lane found Jimmy Sherburne in the near corner for a three and a 11-10 score. It was the start of a brief 7-0 Princeton run.
With the harder to see shot clock running low Harris was wild off the right baseline and Bray rebounded, tossing an outlet to Hummer who attacked McGonagill and was fouled. Hummer made one of his two at the line.
Bray took a charge on a Sullivan drive and on an inbounds design Bray set up Darrow on the right wing for a three that pushed the Tigers up five.
With nothing to play for and a long, disappointing season’s end within sight the Bears could have folded but for the moment did not. McGonagill’s step back jumper went down and following a sequence where Koon was too strong down low, Hummer’s open jumper hit the side of the backboard and Bray behind a Hummer screen was off from three to the left, Sullivan connected in transition to knot the scoreboard a fifth time, 15-15.
With Saunders, Davis and for the first time John Comfort hitting the floor, Princeton started their steady separation out of the under-8:00 media time out.
Sherburne drove and set up Saunders on the left wing for three. Walker was wild in the post and Davis into the lane had a remarkable windmill layup as he snapped the ball around a defender and the rim in a rapid circle before spinning it tautly off the glass.
McGonagill answered with a jumper and Davis looked to have three free throws coming when he was fouled by Ponticelli trying to beat the shot clock. After the whistle the officials conferred and decided that the harm came after the horn with the ball going back to Brown.
Ponticelli drove and while Saunders got his hand on the ball the shot still dropped.
Saunders has been so unconscious from three that he was able to easily sell a ball fake and drive all the way to the rim.
With 4:58 left before intermission the Tigers committed their first personal of the night (as compared to six for Brown) but Walker missed both of his free throws – one short and the other long. The carom was slapped out to McGonagill who did not connect from outside.
Saunders’ next attempt was out of his usual comfort zone but the pull up deuce off the dribble caught the right part of the rim to drop home.
Hummer to Bray on the far wing resulted in a clean look for three that popped straight up in the air allowing Koon to grab it with two hands and lay it back in.
Sullivan drew his team back within five on a jumper at the line but Connolly posting from further out opted to choose Hummer posting even closer in and the junior was fouled by Ponticelli, converting both chances.
“I was really proud of the way Brendan played,” said Henderson “He made everyone else better.”
A bad pass right to Bray went ahead for Davis who stopped inside the arc and converted. While Davis can sometimes take the tougher, contested look on a break his decisions were almost all correct tonight when Princeton had an advantage.
Brown called time trailing 30-21 with 2:08 showing.
Walker’s jumper over Hummer was short and Bray had Darrow open on the left side but the attempt went in and out. Going to his left at Darrow, Ponticelli was fouled and made both attempts.
Darrow tried to return the favor but his wing feed to an open Bray went off Bray’s left hand and on the baseline before Bray could go up alone. It didn’t hurt the Tigers in this final minute. McGonagill lost the ball and Bray came up with it, undercut by Tellef Lundevall. The foul sent Bray to the line at the other end and he converted one of his two chances.
With the shot clock and game clock separated by 14 ticks, Lundevall off the left wing missed and Princeton had the half’s final look. Davis held until there were single digits and ran to his right at the basket, scoring off the glass.
A desperation attempt from beyond half court sailed harmlessly to the right of the rim and the Tigers’ halftime lead was their biggest of the ballgame, 33-23.
Halfway home, Princeton was shooting 12-28 as a team (42.9%), 3-9 from three point range (33.3%) and 6-8 at the line (75.0%). Saunders’ seven led a balanced attack.
For Brown, it was a 10-28 clip (35.7%), 1-6 from three (16.7%) and 2-4 on free throws (50.0%). Sullivan had 11.
Whatever hope the Bears were clinging to as they returned to the Jadwin floor was immediately obliterated by the Tigers. It was quick and it was devastating.
A posting Bray rolled the ball in. Jean Harris missed the rim with a three try.
Sullivan curled and chucked a three that was short. Connolly went right at Ponticelli off the glass.
“My legs felt like they were there today,” Connolly acknowledged. “Everything I’ve been doing has been going down a lot more frequently, so I just look to capitalize on that.”
Walker’s right hook over Connolly was an airball and as Connolly drew the defense inside Davis was happy to spot up at the top of the arc for three and a 40-23 count.
Brown called time but got a poor pass from Harris when action continued that allowed Davis to lead a two-on-one with Hummer for a layup. 2:24 had expired and the lead had ballooned to 19.
“Probably at halftime [Brown] still felt OK and thought they were getting some of the things they wanted,” Connolly recalled. “Once we rattled off [nine] straight points they didn’t feel OK after that.”
Harris answered with a three on the left wing but Connolly hooked the ball home inside. Two Ponticelli free throws following an offensive rebound were countered by a long Saunders jumper with his foot on the line and after McGonagill missed short from behind the arc Bray went right at Harris to extend Princeton’s margin to 20 for the first time.
There was only one small moment of doubt. Brown scored a quick seven to draw within 48-35 as McGonagill curled on the left for three. It took less than two minutes to erase said doubt. Koon drove from the arc to his right. McGonagill missed outside and Comfort went down the right baseline past his man for a two hand dunk. With the shot clock close to expiration a McGonagill three was short and Sherburne used a Darrow screen on the right side for an on-target try of his own and a 55-35 margin.
Saunders to a posting Darrow to Hummer sizing a left side jumper and Saunders drawing the defense to Davis on the left for three increased this lead to 22.
Proving mortal for the first time in weeks, Saunders was long on the left wing for three but almost to prove that was now the exception to the rule fired on the right side his next time down the court to make it 63-40.
Henderson had the luxury of starting to empty his bench and the first reward of that decision was Clay Wilson knocking down his initial collegiate three point shot on the right wing.
With 5:24 to go, Harris converted a jumper. This was significant because it would be the final points of Brown’s season. As Bobby Garbade, Chris Clement and Brian Fabrizius saw the floor for the first time, the Bears went 0-10 from the floor and 0-2 at the free throw line with a pair of turnovers.
A posting Garbade went out to Comfort on the left side for three. Clement to a diving Garbade sneaked a nifty pass in that Garbade finished. Koon finished off the rout with a pair of free throws.
Henderson seemed happy with how the evening’s close transpired, building off of similar moments at Dartmouth.
“They made each other better,” he said of his reserves. “That’s stuff we talk about all the time.”
While they had to wait longer than expected, Princeton’s 18th win of the season came with ease, prompting Connolly - who ended his night with a ridiculously nice Dream Shake in the lane for two - to joke that perhaps a nontraditional warm-up was the key.
“Pass, dribble, shoot – those are the things you want to work on – we just couldn’t shoot [without a rim],” he said straight-faced.
“If we just get this kind of result every night maybe we should break the basket a little more.”
-Shooting 20-31 from the floor in the second half (64.5%), Princeton was 32-59 on the night (54.2%). The Tigers made 9-18 three point tries (50.0%) and 8-10 free throws (80.0%).
-Brown was down to 8-34 after the break (23.5%) and 18-62 overall (29.0%), 4-18 from deep (22.2%) and 7-15 at the line (46.7%).
-The Tigers defended the Brown guards’ predilection towards the perimeter and usage of ball screens well. That’s a big reason why McGonagill was never able to get on track as either a scorer or a distributor. “I think we did a really good job communicating on defense,” agreed Davis.
-McGonagill did set a Brown record for most assists in a season (157) and received a warm ovation from the Jadwin crowd when this milestone was announced.
-Sullivan was held to one second half point.
-The Tigers outscored the Bears 32-10 in the paint.
-Despite grabbing 16 offensive boards, Brown was 5-23 on dunks, layups and tips.
-Princeton hosts their regular season finale against Penn on Tuesday night. If the Quakers win it will force a second straight one game playoff versus Harvard for the Ivy League’s NCAA Tournament bid. This is a conclusion Davis, who is growing his hair out until his thesis is completed, has been thinking about for a couple of years since he first realized how his career might conclude. “I’ve been up for that since I was a sophomore. It is a good way to end the season. They’re playing for something but we are too,” adding “We’re playing really well right now so we want to play as long as we can.”