Postgame audio - Coach Mitch Henderson, Ian Hummer, Mack Darrow & Douglas Davis:
Princeton’s year came to an unexpectedly undramatic end on Monday night in the second round of the College Basketball Invitational, as the Tigers fell by 21 at Pitt.
Everything that was attained easily six days previous in Evansville was exceptionally hard versus a Big East foe. Frustrated by the Panthers’ defense jumping out to snuff hand off screens and slice apart ball screens, Princeton played their opening 20 minutes with an uncharacteristic lack of poise and rightfully trailed 49-25 at the break.
Even when the ball was going in, such as a first half stretch where the Tigers made three consecutive shots behind the arc but still could not decrease the Panthers’ lead, Princeton was unable to slow, stop or delay a Pitt team that opened 8-14 from distance.
“We knew when [Pitt] scored points they were dangerous. Two games in a row, a team that makes just over five threes a game makes nine,” head coach Mitch Henderson said. “We just couldn’t handle that.”
Going inside with greater regularity after intermission, the Tigers turned a -26 crevasse into an 11 point deficit with more than seven minutes remaining but on a pair of possessions that could have drawn within single digits, quality looks from Ian Hummer and Brendan Connolly bounded out.
“I thought we played well for spurts in the second half, but they were better,” Henderson assessed.
Pitt concluded Princeton’s 2011-12 season with a 10-3 run and like that the year was over.
Playing his final game as a senior, Douglas Davis scored a game-best 20 and his three point shot with 8:40 left gave him sole possession of second place on the Tigers’ all-time scoring list, passing Kit Mueller ’91. Davis’ career ended with 1,550 points in a Princeton uniform.
Hummer had all 14 of his tallies in the second half.
Pitt received balanced scoring via five players in double figures including Lamar Patterson with 19. The Panthers shot 52.3% as a team.
Playing in a 12,000 seat arena that was barely 10% full, the Tigers led only once at the Petersen Events Center - 2-0 after Connoly was able to slip down from Davis and intentionally bank home a mid-range jumper. Pitt’s strategy to hedge out on Princeton’s ballhandlers at the point they received the ball from their screening teammates created obvious discomfort, even though Connolly converted here.
Hummer could not can a jumper from the free throw line and Nasir Robinson snaked himself to the basket for a tie game.
T.J. Bray from the right wing was long with a three and while Talib Zanna began to lose the ball on a drive his eventual shot was tipped home by Robinson.
The majority of Princeton’s attempts were outside the arc, short of the rim or both. Patrick Saunders and Davis each could not score from deep and going the other way Ashton Gibbs popped over Bray.
Hummer going to the right baseline pulled up and was shy of the iron. Tray Woodall connected at the top of the arc and after making 14 triples versus Wofford, the Panthers had two of their first three on this night. Henderson took a time out to regroup.
The plan was to establish the interior. Connolly got in close, hesitated and was short. Woodall scooped to his left with little interference and things were slipping down 12-2.
Princeton began to heat up but Pitt matched them basket for basket and then some. Davis deep at the top of the arc knocked down three pointer 271 of his career to draw back within seven.
Woodall again scooped to his left starting at the free throw line.
With the manner the Panthers were defensing Princeton on the perimeter, the insertion of Mack Darrow was a quality counter. Instead of slipping to the basket like Connolly, Darrow could alternatively pop to an opening created by this aggression.
“We tried to simulate that in practice,” Davis said of Pitt’s belligerence to the ball. “They hedge really hard. I wouldn’t say it disrupted what we were tried to do but we definitely had to get used to it.”
A posting Bray found Darrow on the left side for three and a 14-8 count. Darrow got a good look at the basket closer in, running a hook through the lane that landed short.
Zanna showed Darrow how it was done, using his left hand to hook over the Princeton junior. The dilemma faced by the Tiger coaching staff was balancing Darrow’s offensive versatility with the size he would give up in the lane. Connolly’s frame was better-suited for this game defensively yet he could not slide to the arc as Darrow was capable. What to do?
The Tiger offense was settling down but the defense could not provide much support. Hummer on one block fed a cutting Denton Koon on the other block for a layup, Princeton’s only basket of the half in the paint.
Hummer picked up a steal and instead of pushing all the way to the tin he passed off to Davis in transition who stopped, realized he was alone and fired in a three to draw the orange and black within that same number.
Pitt called time and when play resumed the Tigers were in a 1-3-1 on defense for the first time. It didn’t work well as Woodall lobbed a pass to Dante Taylor for a dunk, fouled by Davis as he brushed by.
Davis, doubled as expected on a hand off, went to Darrow popping to the left wing for three. Gibbs crossed Bray and launched a three of his own. Another Bray post resulted in a third Darrow trey and while Princeton was scoring regularly the gap on the scoreboard wasn’t changing. Woodall’s catch and shoot three over Davis was good enough for a 25-19 Pitt lead with 8:17 left before halftime.
Davis looked to answer from the left side but his three was short, however Hummer was pushed by Robinson on the rebound. Bray to his left stopped at the free throw line but his jumper did not go down.
A pass by Woodall to Patterson straight down the baseline set up another three from the corner in front of the Princeton bench. Davis’ attempted answer pulling up at the top was long before Patterson on the left side for three made it a 12 point edge.
Davis ran to the right corner and took a Bray pass there, snapping in a trey to stop this 9-0 run. Patterson got Hummer in the air on an inbounds and scooped the ball under him. Patterson was able to go left at Koon prior to Saunders from the top of the arc rainbowing in an especially high arcing three. It was Saunders’ only bucket during a rough final night where he shot 1-8 from the floor.
35-25 wasn’t ideal but it wasn’t a horrific deficit. The last four minutes of the half, everything fell apart. Having scored on three straight possessions, Pitt capitalized on six more in a row.
Patterson curled, caught and tossed in a three. Davis’ answer was short and a nice pass by Robinson behind Saunders and Connolly led to Zanna scoring while being fouled.
On a drive, Bray’s pass to Davis was intercepted easily by Woodall who was gone the other way. John Comfort, in for the first time, was too strong off the glass inside and Woodall’s scoop to the right bounced twice on the rim and dropped.
A possession that saw Princeton twice nearly come up with a steal concluded with J.J. Moore’s three on the left wing and manageable had become disastrous. 14 straight points had gone Pitt’s way and it was 49-25 at the horn.
“You can’t give up 49 points [in the first half] and win any games, except if you’ve in Evansville, Indiana,” Henderson said, referencing Princeton’s high scoring first round CBI success. “They bothered us with what we were trying to do.”
Princeton shot 9-24 as a team (37.5%) in the initial 20 minutes, 7-15 from three point range (46.7%) and did not attempt a free throw. The Tigers were outscored 22-2 in the paint.
Hummer, the team’s leading scorer, was 0-3 from the floor without a point.
“I was a little frustrated in the first half,” Hummer admitted. “I rushed a few shots and I wasn’t really playing my game.”
All nine baskets came off assists while three of the team’s six turnovers occurred in the last three minutes.
Pitt shot 20-36 overall (55.6%), 8-14 outside the arc (57.1%) and 1-2 on free throws (50.0%). The Panthers took exquisite care of the ball, with 10 assists to one turnover and scored an absurd 1.67 points per possession.
The second half was permeated with the sickly feeling that the year was ending. Only the steady tick of the clock separated the inevitability of the end of the season from actuality. All one could do was sit back helplessly as Pitt kept scoring and their lead eventually reached a high water mark of 59-33 on Zanna’s dunk after Koon tried to go for a steal and a two hand slam plus foul was the result.
Lost in this misery was the fact that Princeton was actually starting to establish their strengths against the Panthers. Sure going inside to Hummer wasn’t reaping immediate results as passes out to Saunders for three didn’t sky home. But, Hummer was able to rise for his first basket in the lane and set up Connolly after drawing the defense.
With 15 minutes left to share, the Tigers played some downright decent basketball. A posting Hummer faded for a 61-38 count. Hummer followed that with a gorgeous diagonal bounce pass to Davis down the lane freeing himself to the tin. A long outlet by Bray rebounding to Hummer attacking made it a 19 point game. Bray out of the post used a right hook for two more.
Gibbs’ jumper missed the rim and Davis in transition on the left wing for three was short.
In a bit of bad fortune Hummer tried to save a loose ball going towards the near corner and threw the ball to a Pitt player, allowing Dante Taylor to dunk the ball.
Time was dwindling but Princeton kept closing. Bray sealed his man and laid in a Darrow pass for 63-46.
Hummer to his right saw a shot drop but was called for a charge that Woodall absorbed. All Hummer could do was wave his hand at the official in dismay.
Robinson missed a three as well as the subsequent dunk follow of his own shot allowing Davis to flash to his right and connect a fifth time from outside, passing Kit Mueller and making it a 15 point game.
Bray to Hummer resulted in two made three throws and Hummer stole a Patterson pass on the next Pitt possession to get his team within 64-53.
With 7:19 showing, it was getting interesting.
Patterson’s left side jumper past Hummer went in and out. At the other end Bray posted and found Hummer on the left wing with a shot that was off target.
A Woodall pass went behind Saunders to Robinson for an easy layup that ended a 9-1 stretch favoring Princeton. Hummer looked like he was guilty of another charge but got both a favorable whistle and a favorable ruling that he was trying to get the ball up to the rim as the foul was called. Hummer made both chances and it was 11 again.
On the left wing Woodall was errant and Hummer skied for a rebound in traffic. Spinning to his left in the post, Connolly was just off going glass and Robinson raced the other way for a much-needed basket.
Koon couldn’t finish down low and neither could Hummer tipping in mid-air. Gibbs stopped to his right at Davis for a short jumper and after Hummer missed inside, Darrow couldn’t get the follow in and Bray picking up the loose ball had it stolen back from him by Woodall, Gibbs scored on the break and the night’s normalcy had been restored.
Hummer across the lane got a one handed pass out to Davis for one last trey but Pitt followed with eight straight in the final three minutes – including their lone three of the second half - and at 8:40 pm ET on a Monday night in Pittsburgh, in front of five times as many empty seats as observers, a 20 win season full of many great individual and team accomplishments had ended with surprising, underserved ease.
-Princeton shot 23-56 in their last game of 2011-12 (41.1%), 10-27 behind the arc (37.0%) and 5-6 at the line (83.3%).
-Pitt was 34-65 (52.3%) overall, 9-20 from deep (45.0%) and 5-9 on free throws (55.6%).
-Hummer’s stat line included 14 points, nine rebounds, six assists, four turnovers, two blocks and three steals in 33 minutes.
-Woodall was equally impressive with 15 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds.
-Bray’s 119 assists for the season are the fifth-most by a Princeton player.
-For his career Davis hit 276 three pointers, five behind Brian Earl’s school record.
-Davis’ spot on the Princeton scoring chart may be short-lived, as Hummer enters his senior year 380 points behind his former teammate.
-Jimmy Sherburne traveled with the team but was relegated to a suit on the sidelines.
-Princeton’s senior class won 80 games, most in over a decade.