Postgame audio - Coach Mitch Henderson, John Comfort, Douglas Davis & Patrick Saunders:
As someone who has slugged through Princeton vs. Penn repeatedly as both a player and as a coach, Jerome Allen’s statement after his team had been withheld a share of the 2011-12 Ivy League title by losing to the Tigers at Jadwin Gym was a surprise.
“How can a team that’s playing for nothing play harder than the team that is supposedly playing for something?” he asked himself.
It was not the circumstance that Princeton wanted to find itself in at the regular season’s close, but when the Quakers come to town there’s always substance on the line.
Tigers senior guard Douglas Davis didn’t see Tuesday’s competition as Allen did, nearly channeling Pete Carril in the process. “Not at all,” he said when questioned if Princeton had nothing to play for. “Every time you step on the floor you’re trying to win. We don’t know what our future holds so we’re just going to play.”
Play they did. Play to win. Especially on defense.
Zack Rosen, who will almost certainly be named the Ivy League Player of the Year tomorrow, got his 19 points, but he did so on 8-24 shooting with seven turnovers versus a lone late assist as a combination of Davis, Ian Hummer, T.J. Bray and Jimmy Sherburne chased him around every screen and changed off on every curl in a fashion they could not at The Palestra. Rosen never got to the free throw line and had only one layup.
While Rosen was struggling, Princeton raced to a 23-6 edge over 15 minutes in behind their seniors Davis and Patrick Saunders.
Rosen scored the Quakers’ last six points on a trio of jumpers before intermission to create a tenuous 10 point edge for the Tigers. Princeton was unable to hold off Penn’s continued charge when play resumed, drawing within 34-31 on a follow by Fran Dougherty of a Rosen baseline jumper.
Rebounding out of a time out, Hummer scored a soft jumper on an inbounds and T.J. Bray went high to his right over Rosen in the lane. When Davis knocked down his second three of the game in the face of Rosen the lead was 10 again.
Going 11-14 from the line down the stretch, Princeton held Penn at bay. Davis was able to exit the game with :08.6 remaining to a loud ovation.
“It was special,” said Davis about how his ultimate night at home closed. “You’ll never forget these moments you have, especially the last moments.”
Hummer performed like the player that everyone expected Rosen to be, scoring 18 on 6-10 shooting with 10 rebounds, four assists, four blocks and three steals. In likely their final time out at Jadwin, Davis added 12 and Saunders scored 10 on five layups.
“Any time you get your seniors to play like that it is very special,” head coach Mitch Henderson stated about the contributions from his co-captains Davis and Saunders.
It was Senior Night at Jadwin Gym and Henderson started fellow senior John Comfort alongside Davis, Saunders, Hummer and Brendan Connolly.
“I found out before the game,” recalled Comfort of his first career start. “It was an exciting moment. It is always good to get out on the court with Doug and Pat at the same time.”
Connolly won the opening tip, but had the ball stolen inside by Henry Brooks. At the other end Rosen was picked up by Davis. For all the snide emails I’ve received over the previous four years about “_oug _avis,” he has stepped up his on-ball defending this season and tonight was the culmination of the time he put in to develop into more than just a scorer. Rosen’s pressured pass to the wing went well beyond a teammate and out of bounds.
A “chin” cut from Hummer to Saunders opened the scoring. Miles Cartwright responded with a drive at Bray to even the scoreboard.
Both teams struggled to find early rhythm. Hummer threw the ball away, leading to Rosen coming up short on a three with Saunders approaching. A feed from Hummer to Comfort was errant but Rosen’s pull up jumper sailed long.
In to replace Comfort, Bray scored with his right hand and it is likely that at this juncture you did not think to yourself “I expect Princeton to hold this lead for the next 37:12.”
Senior Tyler Bernardini, who did not start for Penn, entered with 16:11 showing for the first time. Unlike at The Palestra, he was not an uncanny jump shooting machine.
Davis slid into a travel, offset by Bray anticipating a Rosen pass and picking it off. Saunders - 9-12 from three the previous four games - was long on a trey try off an inbounds. Rosen versus Davis could not convert a jumper and finally Hummer gave the game some juice by taking a pass from the posting Connolly and spotting up at the top of the arc.
Both Cartwright and Rob Belcore missed outside looks and in between Bray charged into Bernardini trying to get a dish off to an open Saunders down the left baseline.
When Princeton wasn’t giving the ball away they were converting all their chances. Hummer hit a second time from outside, something rather improbable coming into this season, and his left corner three made it 10-2 Tigers. While a posting Bray’s cross-body pass got possession to Hummer it was Connolly’s screen down low that freed him up.
Cartwright driving and Dougherty receiving drew Penn back within six but a catch and shoot three from Davis went in to put the lead to a game high nine.
Their next time down the court Davis pulled the trigger on a deep left wing three that missed the mark and in transition Rosen was good on a reverse, his first field goal.
Hummer backed in his man down low and Denton Koon, he of the bright orange socks, softly lofted in a left baseline jumper for a 15-6 mark.
With Sherburne in off the pine, it was his job to initially check Rosen. Hummer blocked Bernardini trying to launch from in front of the Princeton bench and off a post from Hummer, Mack Darrow came around to curl behind and lay a lead pass up which was goaltended.
There was a (correct) sense that while the Tigers were in front now by 11 this would not last and that the home team was leaving points off the board. For the moment, however, the defense was good enough to keep that concern tucked away.
Penn swung the ball around the horn, where Cartwright was unknowingly stepping on the sideline. A spinning Connolly versus Dougherty in the post lost the ball off his foot and out of bounds. Bernardini looked to rise again but Sherburne slapped the ball out of his hands before he could square and launch.
Hummer went for a three on the left wing that was well short.
Sherburne from the left side of the arc attacked to his right into the lane and with a dipsy scored over Rosen. Bernardini hopped into a travel on a drive and Hummer to his left was able to keep the ball on his hip long enough to regain control and boost his team’s lead to 21-6.
When Bernardini finally got an open look, the ball spun out. Darrow to Saunders cutting looked too wild to drop but the ball went through the net anyway.
Rosen got on track, despite the Tiger defense’s best efforts. First he fended off Davis for a jumper. Next, after a posting Bray to a cutting Darrow resulted in two made free throws, Rosen connected on the right wing for three.
Davis to Saunders inside once more stopped this personal 5-0 run and Davis then stripped Rosen clean. Before the Tigers could get off a shot Darrow was whistled for an illegal screen well away from the ball.
Belcore drove from the arc to the glass for two and a 27-13 count. Davis had an open three land short and Rosen’s catch and shoot jumper was pure.
Rosen stole the ball from Davis in the paint only to see Hummer immediately grab possession back. Princeton could not take advantage as the clock moved under a minute. A loose ball came out to center court and Saunders was tied up by Bernardini with possession going to Penn. Rosen missed once again and Princeton held for the half’s final possession.
With his coach yelling “one shot!,” Hummer went into the lane too early and was blocked by Dougherty. Enough time remained for Rosen to go to his left, bull into Hummer and spring back for a jumper that dwindled the Tiger lead down to a closer-than-reality 10.
Princeton shot 11-17 in the first half (64.7%) but had 13 turnovers versus eight assists. Hummer scored eight but gave the ball away thrice. The Tigers made 3-7 three pointers (42.9%) and 2-2 free throws. They also had a 16-6 edge on the glass.
Penn was 8-24 (33.3%) with Rosen 5-10 (50.0%), good for 11 points yet saddled with four turnovers. The Quakers knocked down 1-7 threes (14.3%) and did not take a free throw.
When play resumed Connolly inside was stripped by Brooks and Cartwright from the far corner continued a 9-0 Quaker run.
There were a lot of big baskets in the second half, but Connolly reversing from a spinning Hummer to restore a 29-20 count was up there. Brooks could not catch a pass on Penn’s side of the floor and Hummer went down to the hardwood to control. Connolly spinning to his right made it three personals on Brooks and the junior big added one of two free throws.
The Quakers were coming but for the most part Princeton was prepared with responses. Dougherty versus Connolly off glass drew Penn within 30-22.
Saunders to Connolly was batted away into a turnover. Rosen got loose on a drive that Connolly closed on and blocked off the backboard. Davis had a great look via a skip pass that came off the iron and Rosen’s spinning fade versus Saunders was short. Saunders with a three on the left side was off and momentum hung in the balance like one of the senior’s rainbow jumpers.
Bray to Saunders on a reverse put Princeton up 10 once more.
“They get up into you and they pressure you,” Henderson said of the Penn defense and how Princeton was able to exploit this aggressiveness.
Leading by the same margin with the ball after Cartwright’s right side three was short, Hummer had a pass across the court stolen by Cartwright who raced ahead as Hummer tried to make up ground. Hummer was able to block the initial shot but he and Bray sailed out of the frame leaving the trailing Bernardini to put the ball home unimpeded. It was the senior’s only basket in six attempts.
Bray got that back with a lefty floater in the lane and Penn went around the horn once more to Belcore in the far corner for three and a 34-27 line.
A driving Bray looked to slice a pass inside which came to the Quakers’ Cartwright. Connolly altered his shot and in transition a Bray three was off to the left.
Cartwright got to the rim and Connolly thought he had a clean block but it went as a foul, resulting in two made free throws.
With Hummer on the bench for a spell, Davis’ step back jumper over Rosen was short. Rosen was also short on a jumper floating to the left baseline but a crashing Dougherty laid the ball home as he closed with two hands. Henderson called a time out with dueling chants of “Lets Go Quakers!” and “Let’s Go Tigers!” ringing out.
In the huddle, all was calm.
“We’ve had similar talks all season,” Henderson said. What followed was a variation on one of his former boss’s favorite expressions. “Just do what you’ve been doing.”
In other words, figure it out.
Bray inbounding to Hummer hit a soft jumper which turned 34-31 into a five point game. Rosen cut to the basket but help defense affected his finish. Bray to his right pushed up and in a one hand floater.
Cartwright concluded a wild possession by slipping down the lane into a traveling violation. On the play Sherburne somehow dislocated his right shoulder and had to come off the floor. Afterwards Henderson assured that Sherburne was fine. A week+ of rest will do him good.
If Connolly’s basket early in the second half was big, there was Rosen pulling up for an NBA distance three that sailed long and Saunders fouled on the rebound. Davis off the left wing showed no remorse, knocked down a triple in the fellow senior’s grill for a 41-31 score.
Rosen responded by stopping at the top of the arc for three. Davis went back at Rosen, his shot no good. Hummer was able to slap the loose ball out of the air with one hand to Saunders and on the reset Bray fed Saunders diagonally for a hesitation put in.
Steve Rennard inside was blocked by Hummer, yet the ball somehow rolled out to Rosen who fired a second time for three and converted.
Hummer deflated momentum with a deft touch over Belcore. Tigers by eight.
Active hands did not allow Penn to get feeds to their slashing guards. Connolly slapped a ball loose and out of bounds. Also key was how Rosen was not getting free to receive a return pass once he gave up possession. A faceguarding Bray wouldn’t let him catch and Rosen sailed to his left missing a difficult three as the shot clock dwindled.
A posting Hummer went out to Darrow for a three that could have sent the Quakers reeling but the shot came up short of the rim and harmlessly landed on the baseline.
Darrow was next to slap a feed away and out of play.
Davis came up big on defense, snatching a Rosen pass from the far wing out of the air. An advancing Bray could not finish to his left as Hummer grabbed the offensive board and was fouled hard by Dougherty trying to tie up. Hummer was good on his first free throw, off on the second. The score was 46-37 with 5:36 winding down.
On a drive and dish from Belcore to Doughety, Davis slapped down on the latter loudly as the feed was being converted. Dougherty was well short on his free throw.
Saunders to Darrow set the junior up for another potentially big three but the attempt rimmed off. Saunders blocked Cartwright’s scoop out of bounds and on the pass in Rosen’s free throw jumper sailed long.
Tired of the arc, Darrow went to his left from the circle and pushed in a lefty floater.
Belcore missed for three from the left side and Princeton had the ball with under three minutes to go up nine. Belcore surprised by stripping Hummer clean on the far wing face to face and going ahead with a shot that was goaltended by an angry Hummer.
Out of the night’s final media time out with the score 48-41, a still-steamed Hummer went left at Belcore and left him dizzy with an up/under move.
Rosen kept shooting but he also kept missing. Floating again, this time to the left baseline, he was long. While Hummer’s jumper did not respond, Rosen from a good 25’ out could not find the rim and Bray had the rebound. Pushed down by Dougherty, Bray made the front end and missed the back end of his one and one.
Cartwright was short curling to his left and as the game reached the final 81 seconds, the fouls began. Davis went to the line and knocked down both sides of his one and one for a 53-41 score.
While Rosen responded with a basket, Davis had two more free throws as the crowd started to chant “Doug-las! Da-vis!.” Rosen picked up his lone assist after 39:07 of court time, with Rennard connecting on the left wing.
Darrow was tied up by Belcore as he was doubled following an inbounds and the ball went back to Penn. Down nine, Rosen double dribbled into the lane, jumping forward holding the ball with both his hands.
Hummer, Davis and Darrow each converted a pair from the line and to cap the frustration of an accomplished Ivy career that was concluding without a trip to the NCAA Tournament, Rosen’s last pass was deflected by Bray into a seventh TO as time ran out.
Princeton’s 19th win of the season meant there would be no playoff game this weekend. Instead Harvard would win the conference crown outright.
“It was an interesting game coming in,” assessed Saunders honestly. “I don’t think we have much love for either team. It is definitely nice to get a win but I won’t lie, it is kind of tough to swallow knowing that our win puts Harvard in the tournament. They’re a good team but I think they might say the same about us.”
Henderson was moved by what had transpired from October until now. “[The seniors] made a new coach in what I’m sure for them was not an easy transition feel very welcome,” he said. I’m proud to be a part of the team.”
For those who could not reconcile their feelings entering this game, the final word on what was at stake belonged to Davis.
“I didn’t feel right letting Penn share the Ivy League title and win it on our home court,” the senior said.
Certainly, that was something to play for.
-Princeton shot 21-36 as a team (58.3%), 4-13 outside the arc (30.8%) and 16-20 on free throws (80.0%).
-The Quakers were 22-57 overall (38.8%) on 21 more attempts, 6-18 from three (33.3%) and 2-3 on free throws (66.7%).
-The Tigers won the rebounding battle 31-23.
-Davis has 1,499 points for his career. Any type of score in a postseason game will make him the third player in school history to reach 1.5K for a career. The other two were no slouches: Bill Bradley and Kit Mueller.
-Hummer moved up to 13th on the Princeton scoring list, passing Chris Thomforde, Rick Hielscher and Frank Sowinski this time out. Steve Goodrich awaits but he’s 69 points off.
-Bray’s 110 assists are eighth-most by a Tiger in a season. With 427 assists, the team has exactly as many dimes as they did in 2010-11.
-Princeton’s seniors went 24-4 in Ivy play at home over their four seasons.